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NOT A MUSICAL

by Lenise Willis

Barn Dinner Theatre’s Saturday Night at Old Smokey might be about an old school, front-porch jamboree, but that doesn’t make it a musical.

“It’s a play with music, but it’s not a musical,” Director Matthew Bradshaw made clear.

The touching, yet exaggerated and comical play is about a mother and her son, an injured soldier returning home from Afghanistan, and their hopes to reopen the old country store that has fallen to disrepair. The store isn’t just the former site of the social hour jam sessions, but it’s also a symbol of camaraderie, family and normalcy. Of course, if things were easy it wouldn’t be a good story. The cast encounters all sorts of problems and must put on a jamboree fundraiser.

So how does one pull off a play about Saturday night jams without a soundtrack or live music? It uses the most personal instrument of all.

“The music is all a cappella,” Bradshaw said. “Voice is the prettiest musical instrument there is.” He adds that there is one tambourine on stage, however.

The play, which is set in the mountains of Tennessee, contains six total numbers that range from heartfelt gospel to a funny commercial jingle for a mortuary. “It has a little bit of everything,” Bradshaw said.

And that it does. Besides featuring a touching story about an injured soldier returning home and coping, the play also touches on more general struggles, such as paying taxes, and wraps all of the scenarios in an exaggerated comical cushion.

“There are lots of fun characters to watch and a lot of good situations,” Bradshaw said. “There’s just a lot of room for both comedy and warm feelings, and it commands a lot of different topics, too. It’s almost farcical, but it’s not. It’s very slice of life, but exaggerated.”

Bradshaw said the play, with its large palette of relatable situations and a variety of rhythms and emotions, appeals to a wide audience. It also suits Barn Dinner’s regulars perfectly. “Our clientele love the heart-warming stories and gospel. This isn’t a religious play, but there is religion in it.”

Bradshaw adds that the theater’s seasoned cast has really brought the play to life. “Their charisma on stage is what really sells this play,” Bradshaw said. “It’s a fun written show, but the actors bring more to it than what’s on the written page.”

Of course, his own tasks deserve some credit as well, because he’s both the director and technical director, which means he was faced with the task of constructing the set, too. The scenic design proved a challenge in itself since the script was written for a proscenium stage, and Barn Dinner’s stage is in the round. Bradshaw had to recreate a set that would make sense from all angles not just from head on.

An extra perk to the Barn Dinner Theatre’s performances is, well, in the name “” it’s coupled with a buffet dinner. Let’s be honest, most of us associate TV, movies and any form of visual entertainment with food. I myself love pairing an elegant evening of theatre with a nice pinot and dinner out; it completes the experience for some reason. And because the weather is treacherously cold outside, getting treated to a meal inside and onsite is a huge benefit.

“We are in your face theatre,” said Ric Gutierrez, general manager and producer of Barn Dinner Theatre. “The intimacy and personal attention a guest receives when they walk through the curtains is an experience they will remember forever.”

The buffet dinner is included in the ticket price and includes such Southern favorites as Angus roast beef, honey glazed ham, baked seasoned chicken, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, fried okra and even cobbler and banana pudding. There’s even a full-service bar so you can buy a cocktail to enjoy during the performance. !

WANNA go?

Barn Dinner Theatre presents Saturday Night at Old Smokey this Saturday, Jan. 24, through next Saturday, Jan. 31. Tickets are $43 for adults; $23 for 12 and under. Tickets include a buffet dinner on location. For tickets or more information visit barndinner.com or call 292-2211.

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