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Smoke On the Mountain

From left, Henry Klatt, Lydia Ouverson, Marcus Buttweiler, Ben Siglin, Amelia Ouverson, Tom Ballmer, Sophia Ciavarelli and Hannah Harting rehearse for the Stebens Children’s Theater’s upcoming performance of “Smoke On the Mountain” on Tuesday.

MASON CITY — Stebens Children’s Theatre opens the 2016-17 season with its traveling show, “Smoke on the Mountain.”

Performances will be 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 10, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 11, on the SCT stage.

“Smoke on the Mountain,” which was first produced in a regional theater in 1988, is now a staple of outdoor dramas, according to Tom Ballmer, executive director at SCT.

Ballmer has an acting role in this one, playing the Rev. Mervin Oglethorpe.

The comical musical revue takes place in 1938 in Mount Pleasant, North Carolina, where Oglethorpe has invited the Sanders Family to provide an evening of singing and witnessing.

“I always think of it as a spoof on religion,” Ballmer said, though he admits that it’s not. “It’s such a loving portrayal of being Southern and Baptist.”

They’re “flawed Christians who love each other, and that’s what I love about it,” Ballmer said.

Although individuals, they’re part of a family, and that brings a challenge to the cast.

“It’s really interesting being in a family,” said Sophia Ciavarelli, who plays June. “We’ve never really played a whole family — trying to be loving.”

“There’s a lot more history you have to play when interacting,” said Lydia Ouverson. “A family has an awful lot of history and memories that make them who they are.”

There are other challenges as well.

Amelia Ouverson said a lot of them are playing roles they’ve never played before.

“I personally have never played a character that Denise is,” she said.

“My favorite part – I play father to a family of six,” said Ben Siglin, who plays Burl. “I’ve never played a father before. Marcus, who is one of the brightest people I know, plays one of the dimmest characters I’ve seen.”

Marcus Buttweiler plays Dennis.

He said his challenge is, “What is my character thinking? Lucky for me, my character is not thinking any time.”

Hannah Harting, who plays Sally Mae and is also stage manager, said her character was added, so she had to figure it out for herself.

“I’ve never played a young child,” Harting said. “It’s really cool seeing everyone developing their own character.”

Lydia Ouverson plays Vera, but she’s also assistant musical director, choreographer and pianist.

“It’s been a while since we’ve done a show that requires live accompaniment,” she said. “It makes the show 10 times more believable.”

The revue features more than a dozen vintage pop hymns, and everyone plays an instrument. There’s guitar, ukulele, fiddle, percussion — including cowbell — and a washtub bass, played by Henry Klatt.

It had an “interesting learning curve,” said Klatt, who plays Stanley. “It’s weird.”

Ciavarelli “has a surprise instrument that she invented herself,” Ballmer said. “People have to come see it.”

And of course, the cast members sing.

“They are just a dream to work with,” said Rachel Everist, who is musical director. “They’re all soloists in their own right. They’re just so flexible. During ‘Whispering Hope’ I get chills every single time.”

Siglin said he thinks people will enjoy the story, even if they don’t have a religious background.

“It’s a heartwarming show about family and coming together, no matter their flaws.”

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