Sunday, May 18

Theater Review: Beef and Boards Smoke on the Mountain: A Sanders Family Christmas

Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre, located at 9301 N. Michigan Road, Indianapolis, apparently understands only too well that you don’t mess with success. The smash hits about the small church in North Carolina for the past two seasons return for a third bow in the form of Smoke on the Mountain: A Sanders Family Christmas.

Last year, B&B skipped this second in the trilogy of tales surrounding the Singing Sanders Family due to scheduling. The powers that be were, luckily, able to work it out this season. Still situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the time frame is the 1941 Christmas season and the family has come together to send Dennis Sanders (Andrew M. Ross) off to serve in the war. Losing only two members of the original cast, the troupe was as strong as ever.

Newcomers Lara Goins (Denise Sanders) and Lynne Perkins (Vera Sanders) brought a fresh approach to their respective roles.

Standing out in this chapter of the saga were the male duets and solos. Each different from the other but blending harmoniously. Bob Payne, returning to portray family patriarch Burl Sanders, has a voice as soothing as a distant train: somewhat rumbling, yet rhythmic, as it runs along its well-traveled track. This quality is most evident in his duet, Christmas Time’s A-Comin’, with Jayson Elliott. It is easy to imagine pulling up and sitting on a stack of tires down at the old filling station, listening to his tales while sippin’ on a soda pop. Ross again proves his wide range of vocal abilities this year with Caroling, Caroling 

While not on stage as Dennis Sanders, the boy twin, Ross performs with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, among other bands. Elliott, one of Indiana’s finest, returns to continue the role of Uncle Stanley, the good boy who went bad, returned to his roots and made good. Visiting his slightly off-centered but endearing family, on a hiatus from his successful career in Hollywood, Elliott steps into Did You Ever Go Sailing with his usual flawlessness.

Now to address the royalty of the troupe: John Vessels and Sarah Hund. Setting the pace and mood for the rest of the cast, as well as the audience, this pair consistently outdo even themselves in their reign as the King and Queen of the B&B stage.

Hund favors us with her return to portray lovable June Sanders. Making this character her own, Hund has set the standard for all others who may attempt to play June. As always, she draws the attention and adoration easily from the audience, mesmerizing them from the onset. Slipping into her alter ego as the girl who can’t sing in a singing family, Hund, most recently seen here in The Sound of Music as Baroness Elsa Shrader, creates her magical web again this year.

Portraying the good Reverend Mervin Oglethorpe has endeared Vessels to B&B theatre-goers for three years. Vessels steps into the Gotta Go spotlight this week for his continuing over-the-top, side-splitting reprisal of the enthusiastic pastor. It would be absolutely impossible to watch another actor portray this character without comparing him to Vessels, who was most recently seen here in Annie as Burt Healy and Drake, the butler who nearly stole the show. The musical comedy, with social and moral issues throughout, serves up another slice of southern-style great times and wisdom.

It’s so popular that its run has been extended by six days to August 22. To not see Smoke on the Mountain would truly be a sin. Indy Boot Camps summary: Completed, and I am in awe of how difficult it was in the beginning and how quickly it became easier. Not easy, mind you; just easier. Tod Esquivel keeps the difficulty level high to achieve results, and he did just that. A total loss of 2 1/2 inches off my waist, two inches off my hips, 12 pounds and a visual difference in my abs. Some of you have asked, so here is the Web site: I thank Tod for making me stop whining and working toward and achieving this goal.

If you have something you would like me to attempt, judge or review, drop an e-mail to Me, I will be right here sitting in the pew, getting some old-time religion.

Elizabeth J. Musgrave is a syndicated fine-living, travel columnist, freelance writer and photographer, and performing arts and restaurant critic for Gotta Go. Read Infused, her spirits, wine & beer lifestyle column, at and and catch her as Indy’s Entertainment Adviser on 93 WIBC. Gotta Go is published on,, an in print. Follow her on Twitter @GottaGo, LinkedIn and Facebook.