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Sanders family sings, preaches their way to a merry Christmas

December 3, 2012
By DIANE SPEER - News Lifestyles Editor , The Alpena News

With the words "family" and "Christmas" in the title, an automatic assumption about Thunder Bay Theatre's current show might be that it's standard holiday fare.

In reality, what "A Sanders Family Christmas" by playwright Connie Ray turns out to be is equal parts holiday concert and Southern Baptist church service from about seven decades past.

The show, centered around the singing, signing, musically-inclined Sanders family and the pastor who invites them to perform at his small country church in rural North Carolina, is a sequel to "Smoke on the Mountain." It was during that production that audiences were first introduced to the various quirky members of the Sanders clan.

Article Photos

Courtesy Photo
Performing in Thunder Bay Theatre’s holiday show, “A Sanders Family Christmas,” are, from left, Derek Spack, Linda Suneson, Greg Adamus, LeShawn Bell, Nickie Hilton, Hannah Matzke and Mackenzie Fountain.

This time the family is back, not only to provide a musical Christmas Eve service, but also a send-off for their 19-year-old son, Dennis, who's enlisted on the cusp of World War II.

A mix of TBT's core company and other community performers fill the seven roles, with retired Alpena Public Schools administrator/educator Greg Adamus chief among them. Previously, Adamus has helped out on the musical end of several shows, but this time he handles his first major stage role.

As the family patriarch, Adamus still gets the opportunity to display his superior musicianship on a multitude of instruments, but he adds another layer by giving the best character portrayal of the night. He also succeeds in tugging a little at the heart-strings with his character's remembrances of nearly dying in the trenches of France during World War I.

No matter what character she takes on, company member Nickie Hilton always stays in character, and there's no exception this time either. She's very expressive as June, the only Sanders family member who doesn't sing. Instead, she plays a boat load of instruments (think triangle, clanging cymbals and maracas) and signs for the audience, which also serves as the church congregation, willingly or not.

Local performer Linda Suneson also brings her considerable musical talents to the production both as the show's musical director and as the mother of the clan. Rounding out the cast are Derek Spack as the former jailbird, Stanley; Mackenzie Fountain and Hannah Matzke as the twins, Dennis and Denise; and LeShawn Bell as Pastor Oglethorpe.

There's no real tension or high point in the show, plus a majority of the actors spend a big chunk of time statically sitting in chairs facing the audience. Music is key, however, and there is a liberal dose of it, including many favorite Christmas tunes, with a fair number of old gospel hymns tossed in for good measure.

There's also a good deal of Christian "witnessing" and Bible quoting going on, all of it taking place upon a stage dressed, as expected, like a simple country church. So if you're after some festive music mixed with some old-fashioned, down-home preaching and some warm fuzzy sentiments, then the current production will help "jingle your bells" this holiday.

Remaining performances are this week only, Thursday through Sunday. For reservations, call the box office at 354-2267.



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