Honky Tonk Angels – January 17, 2018

North Bay theatre kicks off the new year with 6th Street Playhouse’s Honky Tonk Angels, a country music revue by Ted Swindley. Swindley, best known for the community theatre staple Always, Patsy Kline, has taken about thirty country standards and wrapped the thinnest of stories around them to create a raucous and enjoyable evening of entertainment.

It’s the tale of three would-be singers, each stuck in a rut, who decide to take a chance and follow their dreams of a singing career to Nashville. There’s Angela (played by Daniela Innocenti Beem), queen of her double wide who’s having trouble standing by her man (cue Tammy Wynette). Darlene (played by Abbey Lee), is struggling with being a coal miner’s daughter (cue Loretta Lynn) and the loss of her boyfriend Billy Joe (cue Bobbie Gentry). Finally, there’s Sue Ellen (played by Amy Webber), who’s fed up with the chauvinist boss at her 9 to 5 job (cue, of course, Dolly Parton).

Act I begins with their backstories and their individual decisions that it’s time for them to fly (cue REO Speedwagon. Wait a minute, REO SPEEDWAGON?!) and concludes with their fortuitous meeting on a Greyhound bus. A lot must happen during intermission because Act II consists of their farewell performance after a record-breaking six-week engagement at Nashville’s Honky Tonk Heaven. In addition to the songs alluded to earlier, others performed include “I Will Always Love You”, “Delta Dawn”, “Rocky Top”, “Sittin’ on the Front Porch Swing”, and “I’ll Fly Away”.

Director Michael Ross has a trio of talented ladies for angels. Ms. Beem as Angela is the unabashed leader of the trio. As the oldest and most worldly member, she grabs hold of the stage – and the audience – and never lets go. Ms. Webber gives her a run for her money as the brassy, big-haired Sue Ellen while Ms. Lee has the quieter moments as the wide-eyed, innocent Darlene.

Eye-popping costumes by Pamela Enz (think leopard skin and a lot of sequins) add to the fun, as does some playful choreography by Michella Snider. Both come together in the amusing “Cleopatra, Queen of Denial” number.

Swindley’s script – if you can call it that – doesn’t provide character depth and there’s no great message to be found beyond the pat “follow your dreams” axiom but what it does provide is the opportunity to hear some great American music performed live. Music director Robert Hazelrigg and musicians Ian Scherer, Quinten Cohen and Kassi Hampton handle the country/bluegrass songbook well. Credit the ladies for bringing the right amount of character and a quality voice to each song, particularly on some very sweet three-part harmonies.

When it comes to shows like Honky Tonk Angels, it is all about the songs. They’ve got this.

“Honky Tonk Angels” runs Thursday–Sunday through Feb. 4 at Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse with evening performances at 7:30 pm and matiness at 2pm.

For more information, go to 6thstreetplayhouse.com

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