Sanders Family Christmas


If you are looking for a reasonably priced Christmas experience that the whole family can enjoy, then you can’t go wrong with Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre’s current offering Sanders Family Christmas that runs through December 20th, with a matinee on December 14 at 2PM.
This is a sequel to Smoke on the Mountain that has been so popular in the North Florida area.
It is l941 and the Sanders family has returned to the Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church for an evening of picking and singing and witnessing. During the show you will hear a lot of funny Christmas stories and a few serious ones since this is war time and teenager Dennis Sanders (Caylor Ventro) is leaving to serve in the Marines. Mr. Ventro is a new to the stage, sang well and played the spoons, a truly lost art.
There is a lot of music including many favorite Christmas songs and a number of original bluegrass style songs by John Foley & Gary Fagin who worked the music into the script by Connie Ray. Toward the end of the evening you will have a chance to sing along with some carols that are rarely done on commercial radio since they are not politically correct.
Director Jack Barnard has a talented cast that are believable and were certainly well received by the delighted audience on opening night. The Sanders Family is lead by the father, Burl, played by well known bluegrass singer and promoter Randy Judy, who is a veteran of many stage appearances including two previous productions of Smoke On the Mountain. Randy can really pick and sing!!
Mother Sanders, Vera, is played by Musical Director Shelli Long, who is well known for the many musicals she has been involved with in the North Florida area as a director and accompanist. She is a fine singer and actress and performing on the stage is a side of Ms. Long we have not seen often enough.
Tom Fallon is the brother, Stanley, the dark horse of the Sanders family since he served 18 months in jail for an unknown crime. He is now a popular recording artist and just finished a movie with Gene Autrey. Fallon has been a location manager for many of the movies filmed in this area for a number of years, but he started in show business a musician and in this show he plays guitar and sings and even, yodels by golly.
Douglas Anderson Senior, Morgan Williams is daughter Denise and you are going to love her pig tails which you rarely see these days. A true theatre veteran, she been a stage manager and already has an impressive resume with local groups like Players by the Sea (Cabaret & Home on Deranged), FCCJ (Guys and Dolls & Once Upon A Mattress). She is a darling as Denise!
Sarah Samuels stepped into take the role June Sanders, just a few days before the opening and give a remarkable performance as the non-singer in the family who only signs the songs. You may recognize her from the Alhambra Dinner Theatre and her role as Louisa Von Trapp in The Sound of Music.
Tom Traguer is the down home and very friendly Reverend Melvin Oglethorpe, the single pastor of this church. Mr. Trauger has done many shows with every theatre in the area, but has not been seen for a while due to a job that took him all over the USA and Canada. He is a very versatile e actor, and one of my favorite Traguer performances was in Popcorn at FCCJ several years ago. Tom, it’s good to have you back. If you were really a pastor, I’d join your church!
Carson Merry Baillie and Judy Barnard as members of the congregation, have my kind of roles: no lines to say, and to just dress in the l940s style clothing. They are the butt of a few jokes from the performers and both react with appropriate facial gestures.
Rounding out the cast and playing a mean bass is Heather DiMarzio who says her only two lines with gusto.
The entire set is taken up by instruments, the preacher and the Sanders family, and the audience is considered to be the congregation. (No! they don’t pass a collection plate, I bet your glad to hear that!!) The technical crew, Bryan Frank and Brandon Baughn, have managed to have snow falling out side the church window and that will sure enough get you into the Christmas spirit.
This is a feel good show that I really enjoyed. I don’t get to sing very often and though I did not know the words to such songs as “I’m on the Battlefield for My Lord”, or “Did You Ever Go Sailing”, I did the best I could with “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “Jingle Bells.”
Thanks ABET and the Tom Nehl Fund for bringing this entertaining musical to Jacksonville. On your Christmas list should be: See Sanders Family Christmas, call 249-7177 for reservation.