This month you could steal away from the mall, from gift-wrapping and from entertaining the out-of-towners, and spend a couple hours with the musically inclined Sanders Family. White Rock area resident Cheryl Denson, director of “Sanders Family Christmas” — a One Thirty Productions play that runs through Dec. 18 at the Bath House Cultural Center — promises you’ll have fun. Here, the theater veteran fills us in on what makes this holiday production a not-to-be-missed sensation.
How did you get involved with “Sanders Family Christmas”?
I have been working in theater for a long time, used to act, but now I am a freelance director. One Thirty Productions has hired me for a second year to direct this play, which was incredibly popular last year, and we expect it to be even more popular this year. The producers are old friends of mine. “Sanders Family Christmas” is the first musical they have put on. Musicals are a little more difficult and a little more expensive than the non-musical show. I was brought in because musicals are a specialty of mine. This play is not new — no new script, no new actors — so it will not be redirected, but remounted. It will grow.
What can the audience expect?
It’s a show you can bring your family to and not worry. And it is shown on a unique schedule. One Thirty Productions is named for its interesting showtimes: always 1:30 p.m. matinees. That’s the only program of its kind in the area. It’s friendly for older people and families. It is such a special opportunity that no one else is offering, and they present four shows a year at the Bath House Cultural Center. Essentially, “Sanders Family Christmas” is about the Sanders family: parents, three children and an uncle. It’s Christmas 1941, and the family learns that the eldest son, Dennis [played by Cayman Mitchell], will ship off to war. Beforehand, the family spends Christmas witnessing and performing at their church, Mount Pleasant Baptist Church. The play is a sequel to the popular “Smoke on the Mountain”, part of a Sanders Family trilogy. It includes dozens of Christmas carols and bluegrass music, and each family member testifies, I guess you could say, using funny Christmastime stories. The cast is incredibly talented, with so many different types of talent, and they all play musical instruments: This one plays guitar. That one plays banjo. A sister refuses to sing, and only plays percussion! Sonny Franks plays the father, Burl Sanders. Willie Welch plays Uncle Stanley — both of these guys are well-known actors, singers and musicians. Pam Pendleton plays the mom, Vera, whom she has played in all three Sanders plays in theaters around the country. It’s the same cast as last year, but people change in a year. They have done new things, and they will bring new experiences to this production. That will keep it fresh and new, even for those who saw it last year.
I hear the show was quite popular last holiday season. What makes it so special?
It was so popular last year, I think, because everyone at the holidays is looking for a special Christmas experience. It celebrates family and faith and how families accept each other, warts and all. And you do see some warts with this family. It’s also special because of the intimate setting at the Bath House. It’s not like a big concert. People want a warm experience that offers a little nostalgia, too. We want to remember those Christmases from long ago — this offers a nice afternoon oasis from wrapping presents or being at the mall.
What do you have planned after the holidays?
I am directing a play at Dallas Children’s Theater, then a production of “Oliver” and an upcoming production of “Victor/Victoria” at the Dallas Theater Center.
“Sanders Family Christmas” runs Dec. 1-18 at the Bath House Cultural Center, 512 E. Lawther. All performances are at 1:30 p.m., Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. For more information about One Thirty Productions, call 214.532.1709.
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