Sanders family returns to Gaslight Theatre for Christmas show

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The Gaslight Dinner Theatre presents Sanders Family Christmas Nov. 6-Dec. 15, at The Renaissance Center for an extended holiday run of 35 performances.

Evening shows will be Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays beginning with a buffet dinner at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $30 per person and include dinner, drink, dessert and the performance. Lunch matinées for patrons 55 and older will be Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays beginning with a buffet lunch at 12 p.m. Tickets are $20 per person and include lunch, drink, dessert and the performance. There will be no performances the week of Nov. 19, due to the Thanksgiving holiday.

"Dinner theatre has always been popular during the Christmas holidays, so we normally present more performances than other shows through the year," said Pacer Harp, managing director of the Gaslight Dinner Theatre. "On top of that, Smoke on the Mountain was the most popular show we’ve ever presented in the Gaslight, with a sold-out run in 2006. Combine the holiday season with what we expect to be another excellent show and we simply have to add more shows to meet the demand for tickets, especially for our senior matinées. For that reason we’re adding matinée performances on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and evening shows on Thursdays to our regular schedule."

Most of the cast from last year’s Smoke on the Mountain returns for Sanders Family Christmas. Paul Kerr and Kiersten Vorheis are back to play Burl and Vera Sanders, the patriarch and matriarch of the Singing Sanders Family. Harp will reprise his role as Rev. Mervin Oglethorpe of the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Mount Pleasant, North Carolina.

Sanders Family Christmas is being directed by Hal Partlow, manager of the Renaissance Repertory Theatre Company and director of The Renaissance Center’s Mind Enriching Theatre series. Nathan W. Brown is musical director for the production.
The Singing Sanders Family is invited back to the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church for services on Christmas Eve 1941, just days after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

More than two dozen carols, many of them vintage hymns, and hilarious yuletide stories get the congregation into a down-home Christmas spirit before the boys, including one of the Sanders’ own, go off to World War II. This wildly infectious musical brings cheer to audiences eager to see how their friends from Smoke on the Mountain have been getting along.

Sanders Family Christmas was conceived by Alan Bailey and written by Connie Ray with musical arrangements by John Foley and Gary Fagin, the same team that created the immensely popular Smoke on the Mountain.

As the Singing Sanders Family, the actors in the Gaslight Dinner Theatre production also accompany their own musical performances, one of the aspects that makes the show unique.

Kerr, a veteran of six productions of Smoke on the Mountain, plays guitar, mandolin, banjo and harmonica. Vorheis plays piano, upright bass, spoons and washboard and learned to play the autoharp for last year’s production.

As June Sanders, the only family member who doesn’t sing – "I sign; I don’t sing" – Catherine Rogers also contributes musically on an assortment of instruments while providing sign language interpretation for the congregation.
Alex Dittmer, returning for his role as prodigal brother Stanley, contributes on guitar, bass and banjo, among other instruments.

Critics have called Sanders Family Christmas even funnier than Smoke on the Mountain and its mixture of humor, music and touching moments has made it extremely popular on tours across the country.

"Even with an extended run, tickets for Sanders Family Christmas are sure to sell out quickly," said Harp. "Groups from all over the region have been calling about tickets since they went on sale in January."

Area businesses, churches and civic organizations also are already calling to schedule special performances for the holiday season. For groups of 25 or more, shows can be scheduled in addition to the public performances, which proves to be very popular for Christmas celebrations.

For more information on the Gaslight Dinner Theatre production of Sanders Family Christmas, call (615) 740-5600 or visit The Renaissance Center’s Website at www.rcenter.org. To purchase tickets for a performance, call (615) 740-5601 or toll-free at (888) 700-2300. For information on booking a special performance, call LeAnn Polk at (615) 740-5503.

The Renaissance Center is a fine arts education and performing arts center at 855 Highway 46 South in Dickson, just 35 miles west of Nashville on Interstate 40 at exit 172.