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Georgia Mountain Players continue ministry with popular production
'Smoke on the Mountain' celebrates 20 years
The Georgia Mountain Players present their 20th year of "Smoke on the Mountain" at the Georgia Mountains Center Theater.

‘Smoke on the Mountain’

When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 9-11, 16-17, 23-24 and 2:30 p.m. Aug. 12, 18-19, 25-26.

Where: Georgia Mountains Center Theater, 301 Main St. SW, Gainesville.

Tickets: $17 for adults, $13 for seniors older than 59, students and children. Additional fees apply when ordering by phone or online.

More info: 770-534-8420.

There may have been different faces cast over the years, but for two decades members of the Georgia Mountain Players have performed "Smoke on the Mountain" to sold-out audiences.

Now in its 20th year of production, the popular show will continue to entertain and endear young and old. "Smoke on the Mountain" opens tonight at the Georgia Mountains Center theater, 301 Main St. SW in Gainesville.

"It’s hard to put into words what this play means to me and the rest of the Players," said Mike Martin, the Players managing and artistic director.

Martin said when one of the actors wanted to quit because of obligations of family, church and his businesses, his father-in-law told him that he had better think hard about his decision, and that "Smoke" was more than just a play — it is a ministry.

"So I guess that is the best way to describe it. It is a ministry."

The musical comedy, set in 1930s North Carolina, takes place in a little Baptist Church. The congregation has a new preacher who has invited a gospel-singing family to perform. But a group of elder matriarchs are unimpressed with the new preacher, who enlists the family’s help to win over the elders.

Through testimony, witnessing and hilarity, the family eventually brings the matriarchs around.

"The old gospel hymns and songs that we perform are familiar to anyone who grew up in the rural South," Martin said.

The family friendly show is full of classic gospel numbers and characters many Southern churchgoers will recognize.

"Every preacher that has come to see ‘Smoke’ — and they are many — have said that they have seen these characters in every church that they have ever been in," he said.

"We never make fun of anyone or become a caricature. It is just very real and most of all fun."

A portion of the show even enlists help from children in the audience who get to join the cast on stage. Martin recalls a very touching story that happened during this part of the program.

"One year, a little Down syndrome boy came up and literally stole the show. He had to touch every musical instrument and hug all the actors. Needless to say, the audience and actors loved it but his mother was embarrassed to tears. When he returned to his seat, the man sitting in front of him stood and gave him an ovation, followed by the rest of the audience and cast."

During the show’s long run, there have been other very memorable occurrences, Martin said, including the time author and columnist Ronda Rich brought comedian Jeff Foxworthy to the performance.

He also said the cast has heard many stories from audience members about "how much they had needed this message of love and laughter in their lives at this particular time."

Martin said after the first performance of "Smoke" in 1992, the group decided to do it one more year. Several years later, he said, the group decided "God and our audiences will let us know when it’s time to quit"

"And here we are 20 years later, still going strong and we, the cast and crew, are having just as much fun as the first years."

The Players even took the show on the road to Nova Scotia in 2002 for several rural church performances.

The original cast members still with the show are Jene Robocker, Linda Smith, Peggy Strickland, Stan Lee, Mike and Dianne Martin.

"We all know these characters so well that in some ways we have become these characters. It is about a big singing family, and in many ways the cast and crew of "Smoke" a just a big family."