LANESBORO, Minn. — The Commonweal Theatre in historic Lanesboro celebrates the holidays this year with the return of an audience favorite, “Sanders Family Christmas” by Connie Ray, with musical arrangements by Gary Fagin and John Foley.
It’s Christmas Eve in 1941 and America is going to war. In North Carolina’s small Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, the lively Sanders Family Singers join together with Pastor Mervin Oglethorpe to raise the spirits of the local congregation. Conceived by longtime Commonweal friend Alan Bailey, who also serves as the production’s director, the warmth, hilarity and foot-stomping bluegrass music will have your toes tapping and your heart singing.
The company is pleased to welcome the return of Bailey, whose prior directing credits include “The Memory of Water, Souvenir,” “Around the World in 80 Days” and last season’s “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”
“This musical,” says Bailey, “features two dozen bluegrass-style Christmas songs with a cast of seven that serve as their own bluegrass band. They will all swap out on guitar, mandolin, upright bass and fiddle all the while singing in tight family-style harmonies.”
Longtime Commonweal patrons, he continues, “will recall this play as it was produced by the Commonweal in 2004 and went on to become the most popular production from the St. Mane Theatre era.”
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Cast members include Commonweal resident ensemble members Lizzy Andretta, Rachel Kuhnle, Eric Lee, Philip Muehe and Jeremy van Meter. Rounding out the cast are guest artists Betti Battocletti and Josiah Robinson who makes his Commonweal debut with the production.
Lacey Szerlip will serve as the production stage manager and, along with Assistant Stage Manager Caroline Hawthorne and Assistant Director Alicia Ehleringer, leads a design team that includes Kit Mayer (set design), Paul Epton (lighting design), Janis Martin (costume design) and Adrienne Sweeney (props design).
Operational funding for Commonweal Theatre’s programming is provided in part by a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, through an appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature, a grant from the McKnight Foundation, Mayo Clinic and private funders. Additional support is provided by F&M Community Bank for special weekday matinee performances for school groups at only $5 per person, which includes a pre-show workshop with Commonweal actors and a post-performance discussion with members of the cast.
From Nov. 15 to Dec. 22, the Commonweal will once again be collecting new art supplies and art kits to be gifted and delivered in time for the holidays to patients at Mayo Clinic’s Eugenio Litta Children’s Hospital.