BY SANDY STAGGS
Already setting box office records in Pelzer, Mill Town Players’ A Smoky Mountain Christmas is irresistible holiday fare for the entire family and guaranteed to lift the spirits of Bah Humbugs all over the Upstate.
Conceived by the same team that brought us the festive Christmas in Dixie –director/choreographer and Greenville mistress of dance Kimberlee Ferreira and music director Tricia Dyar –this popular music show is framed as a Norman Rockwell/Hallmark Channel Christmas in a very nice (and new), and chestnut toasty hunting cabin – courtesy of scenic designer Will Ragland – somewhere in the Smokies topped with with snow falling on cedars outside the windows upstage.
This polished, professional grade holiday musical experience on par with Dollywood or Disneyworld shows, features a cast of nine performers of all ages as an extended family cherishing the rituals and tidings of Christmas Eve and morning.
Yet, this fortunate clan just happens to host a live 7-piece bluegrass band that propels the storyline and mountain/southern Christmas songs with lots of banjo knee jerk rhythms and weepy fiddle action like “Christmas in the Smokies,” “Smokey Mountain Christmas,” “Blue Ridge Mountain Christmas,” and always a crowd-favorite, Alabama’s “Christmas in Dixie,” lead here by Brian Glenn in his MTP debut, though he conveys a seasoned presence and plays guitar on stage, a confidence certainly emboldened by his experience as a member of local country band The Tailgate Homeboys and opener for acts such as Aaron Tippin and Charlie Daniels.
A Smoky Mountain Christmas is also literally a family affair – The Osmonds and A Barbara Mandrell Christmas immediately came to mind while I watched the show – as the cast is comprised of several related members.
Brian Glenn is appearing with his teenage daughter Julia Glenn who proves herself as a real belter in the country funk “Put a Little Holiday in Your Heart.”
Tom Dyar (husband to Tricia and musician himself) plays the patriarch of the family and sings a beautiful jazzy lullaby “Candy Cane Christmas” to the “grandkids,” performed by real-life brothers and musicians (banjo and mandolin) Zeke and Hiram Means.
Some of my (and the opening night audience’s) favorite moments are Tom and another pro Kelly Davis (last seen in Pump Boys and Dinettes) in a duet of an unfamiliar tune “With Bells On”; Kelly, Julia and Alexandria Bagwell in “Up on the Housetop”; Drew Kenyon’s a cappella “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and string showing and twangy “Christmas Time Down South.”
Hiram has fun playfully teasing his siblings with “To Heck with Ole Santa Claus” and the spitfire of the family, Riley Fincher-Foster (Matilda in the recent Younts Center production and Fern in MTP’s Charlotte’s Web), counters with her powerful “Santa Claus is Real.” Riley has “it,” whatever it is – an aura, a presence and personality far out sizing her current stature.
And that’s just act one. The second act eschews the secular in favor of the authentic reason we celebrate Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ – with more traditional gospel and carols, but all with a country or bluegrass twist such as Kelly’s “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” the ladies evoking Dolly, Linda and EmmyLou with a gorgeous a cappella and harmonic “Silent Night,” and the gents on “Go Tell It On the Mountain.”
But leave it to the dynamo Riley to steal the show again with a joyous “Joyful, joyful, We Adore Thee” and with Tom, “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem.”
The terrific live band – who also greets the patrons with the cast after the show) is led by Mckelvie Wilder on keyboard with Russ Chapman on bass, Austin Finley on guitar, Robert Johnson on drums, Charles Wood on banjo and front and center Luke Johnson with his mandolin and Kayla Wells on fiddle.
A Smoky Mountain Christmas continues through Dec. 22 at the historic Pelzer Auditorium, 214 Lebby St. in Pelzer. For tickets, call (864) 947-8000 or visit www.milltownplayers.org.