Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Holiday Theater Roundup for Humbugs: Part One

Posted By on Tue, Dec 2, 2014 at 6:48 PM

Every December Memphis theaters produce an array holiday extravaganzas, most of which I won't see because I've already seen them many times, and I'm humbug like that. Nevertheless, here are some random thoughts about two of the shows in this year's lineup. 

Still Sanders after all these years.
  • Still Sanders after all these years.

I was out of town visiting family for Thanksgiving when Circuit Playhouse revived A Sanders Family Christmas last week. Still, I was struck by the authenticity of the singing in this promotional video. I don't know if I'd call it strong exactly, but strong enough to tempt me into a repeat viewing of better than average bait for holiday theater tourists. 


The world was first introduced to the Sanders family in the Off-Broadway gospel musical Smoke on the Mountain. The unassuming show blended fiery preaching, cornball comedy, and old-time mountain music. The holiday-specific sequel is set in 1941 at a small Baptist Church in the Blue Ridge Mountains on the Christmas Eve following FDR's declaration of war against Japan. It is the Sanders family's last opportunity to sing together before they are separated by the war. It is also a fine opportunity to count blessings in the midst of tragedy.

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Brief autobiographical aside: I grew up going to all-day 5th Sunday Southern gospel quartet singings with my Tennessee grandfather. My Texas grandparents lived in Abilene, next door to The Singing Payne Family, who, in my young, TV-addled mind, were like the Partridge Family of gospel music. They had a bus and everything, and I'd hang out with the younger kids when we'd visit. I mention this because the Sanders Family plays are often successfully nostalgic and although they are set in another time, they really do remind me of family time and the rich vein of gospel and family band traditions. Which, of course, makes me wonder why we can't get some new shows. Isn't Sonseed! The Musical! long overdue? What a gift that would be! And what a great part for Jordan Nichols! 

click to enlarge Somebody make this happen!
  • Somebody make this happen!
Moving on...

The Hattiloo's founding director Ekundayo Bandele has been revising and reviving If Scrooge Was a Brother for years, but the script got a real workout in 2013 when it was produced by Chicago's eta Creative Arts Foundation. eta helped Bandele refine his show, distinguishing it from so many other Dickens knockoffs. eta has since described If Scrooge Was a Brother as a "smash hit" and the company is reviving the show for a limited run.


If Scrooge Was a Brother Trailer from Aaron Mitchell Reese on Vimeo.


After a brief hiatus, Bandele's Eb Scroo, who "grew his backbone," "walked out of the ghetto," and won't give a penny to help anybody else, is also walking back into the Hattiloo. Bandele describes his play as being new and improved, and tickets are selling well enough that additional performances have already been added. 

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Stay tuned for more exciting Holiday Roundups!

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