Otterbein University's 2019 Summer Theatre season has opened with "Smoke on the Mountain," a light-hearted tale about the Sanders Family Singers.

Elizabeth Saltzgiver, managing director and producer for the summer theater program, said the production was first staged in 2002 and is one of the company's "most loved" productions.

Evan Kret, a 19-year-old student who plays Burl in the production, said the action takes place in Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in North Carolina in 1938.

"The premise is Jeremy (Holder), who plays pastor Mervin Olgethorpe, runs the church and runs into the Sanders Family Singers and invites them to come play at a Saturday night church service," he said.

Kret said the cast features seven people, six of whom are members of the family band, and the pastor. He said all of the music is produced by the actors, who play a variety of instruments throughout the show, which opened May 30.

"It's a really happy show that we always have fun with. We can always get on stand and play music," he said.

Kret said the cast had to learn 27 songs during 16 practices to be able to stage the show.

Stephen Blauch, a 20-year-old student who plays Dennis in the show, said a lot of audience members will know the songs, which are common gospel songs, put to bluegrass music, which gives the audience a chance to get involved and sing along.

"I think people should come and see the show because it's like an escape almost. Even doing the show, I feel so happy," Blauch said.

Blauch said the show isn't intimidating for those who aren't of the Christian faith and that the messages are universal.

Kret, Blauch and Holder said they get really involved with the audience, going into the crowd and talking to them.

"It's so nice seeing their reactions. They're so shocked ... The best is when the audience starts clapping along," Holder said.

Performances of "Smoke on the Mountain" will continue at 8 p.m. Thursday, June 6, through Saturday, June 8, and June 13-15 as well as 2 p.m. Sunday, June 9, in the Fritsche Theatre at Cowan Hall, 30 S. Grove St., Westerville. Tickets cost $33.

The other summer productions include the drama "Master Harold ... and the Boys" by Athol Fugard, June 27-30, and the musical "Guys and Dolls," based on a story by and characters of Damon Runyon, July 11-20.

Call 614-823-1109 or visit otterbein.edu/drama. Student-rush discounts are available one hour prior to curtain, depending on ticket availability. The box office, located in Cowan Hall, is open from noon to 4 p.m. weekdays.

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