somewhat recommended Provision Theater Company is devoted to producing works of hope,reconciliation and redemption;works that challenge us to explore a life of meaning and purpose. That is a portion of their “mission statement” and for the most part, they have truly lived up to this statement. This Holiday Season, they are presenting the sequel to “Smoke On The Mountain” , “Sanders Family Christmas”, a sort of hokey little musical story filled with Christmas songs and spirit. It is Christmas Eve, 1941 in the town of Mount Pleasant NC, home of the Mount Pleasant Pickle Factory. Reverend Oglethorpe ( Kevin O’Brien) has asked the Sanders Family, a local family that records Gospel music, to attend this service and help in getting the locals into the holiday spirit with their music. Many of the young men in town are about to ship out to help with the war efforts of World war II, including the Sanders’ son,Dennis.
There are 13 songs, mostly Carols, in this two hour show, and for the most part, they are not ones that are familiar to most of those in attendance ( at least not at the opening night performance). While there are some well known and talented performers in this cast, this is not a show that will be enjoyed by most theater-goers. It is a blue grass show and if you are into Gospel music and down home humor, you will feel at home, but if you are not one who enjoys religious shows and unfamiliar “church-type” music, this one will probably allow you to take a little nap.
Director Tim Gregory uses the stage at Provision to its best advantage and the set by Inseung Park certainly looks like a small rural church might, but the show itself isn’t strong enough for the talented cast members to make an impact. Susan Moniz as Vera sanders is quite motherly and has the southern drawl down pat, but the songs she does do not allow her to use her full vocal range which many of you have witnessed at other area theaters- it is much to good for this music. Richard Marlatt takes on the role of the Patriarch of the Sanders family, Burl. I was surprised to see him carry a bible at all times, it almost appeared that he had added the script to the good book, as he peeked down on several ocassons ( did he come into the show late? did he not learn his lines? Or was that a direction from Gregory?).
I was impressed with Amber Burgess as June, the eldest Sanders daughter, who unlike the others was not a singer, but plays a mean fiddle and does a great job with the bells. She signs the songs with her family, but along the way realizes that no one in their town is deaf! Burgess is adorable in her role and younger sister Denise , twin to Dennis , is well played by the adorable Christine Barnes. Uncle Stanley ( Ron Turner) is doing his own songs and has recently returned from Hollywood where he made a movie with Gene Autry ( for those of you who do not recognize this name, he was a big cowboy star back in the day and also made the original “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer”.
While this show did very little for me, many of the audience members were laughing and clapping along with the characters, so my guess is that if you like “blue-grass” and you are into Gospel sound and services, you will enjoy the show. You can catch it through December 23rd ( I guess the Sanders family heads back to North Carolina for Christmas) with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. The tickets range from $25-$28 and can be purchased by calling 1-866-811-4111 or online at www.provisiontheater.org
The theater is located at 1001 West Roosevelt Rd, ( on the campus of The University of Illinois-Chicago) with plenty of free parking.
They are also running a second holiday show, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” on Wednesdays at 10 am,Saturdays at 2 p.m. and Sundays at 12:30 p.m. tickets for this one are $15 for adults and 410 for children under 12. Runs 12/1-12/22. For more info check out www.provisiontheater.org