Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Honky Tonk Angels
6th Street Playhouse
Review by Jeanie K. Smith | Season Schedule

Also see Patrick's reviews of The Birthday Party, Man of La Mancha and Dear Dad

Abbey Lee, Daniela Innocenti Beem, and Amy Webber
Photo by Eric Chazankin
The show is true to its breed, a revue showcasing some 25 country music songs strung together with minimal plot, but three talented women deliver strong performances to make for an enjoyable and worthwhile entertainment. Honky Tonk Angels, created by Ted Swindley (who also created the better-known show, Always...Patsy Cline), pays tribute to the songs and artists of distaff country such as Tanya Tucker, Tammy Wynette, Bobbie Gentry, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Etta James and more, including hits as well as hidden gems in the line-up. You don't have to be a big country music fan to recognize most of the tunes, and maybe you'll even discover some new songs while appreciating the singers.

Each performer plays a distinct character in the loosely woven plot. Angela (Daniela Innocenti Beem) is stuck in a humdrum housewife role, "Queen of her double-wide," with six kids and an inattentive husband, and can't wait to spread her wings in Nashville. Sue Ellen (Amy Webber) fights off the unwanted moves of her boss and longs to make good on the promise of her childhood singing triumphs. Darlene (Abbey Lee) has to shake off the coal dust, say goodbye to a grieving father, and follow her dream of a life in music. The three meet on a bus to Nashville, discover their natural vocal blend, and decide to team up to take "Nash-Vegas" by storm.

We first meet the women with their defining songs—a send-up of "Stand by Your Man" by Angela, Sue Ellen's "Nine to Five," and "Ode to Billy Joe" by Darlene—and enjoy a few more thrown in the mix, like "Coal Miner's Daughter," "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" and an excellent "Delta Dawn" trio once they meet on the bus. Each performer gets a chance to shine in both solos and trio arrangements. Innocenti-Beem's big belting voice mates well with the country music standards, and she shows off accomplished comic chops in more than one number. She does a terrific turn from the broadly funny "Barroom Habits" to the sobering tale "Almost Persuaded," conveying equal amounts sass and soul. Webber sports some cheerful brass, although her vocals are less countrified. Her "Cleopatra" is one of the better surprises in the show. Lee tackles more of the ballads, and is oddly tentative in some but strong in others. She gets to rock out in "Fancy," and her clear soprano soars in trios.

The book, or dialogue, is decidedly thin, a basic plot device to provide a platform for the music, and in some cases one almost wishes they would talk less and sing more. Act one feels stronger than act two, as it includes more recognizable hits that general audiences will know and enjoy. Nevertheless, the performers make the show both fun and sweet, harmonizing and dancing on a pretend Nashville stage.

Director Michael Ross keeps the staging lively, and scenic design by Jesse Dreikosen takes us easily from three isolated locations to a Nashville stage. Lighting by April George occasionally leaves performers in the dark or seems out of focus. Costumes by Pamela Enz suffered a few mishaps the night I saw the show, but overall do a good job of defining character, with the requisite animal prints and pink vinyl boots. Music director Robert Hazelrigg mans the keyboard with his small combo, easily capturing the country style.

Country music fan or no, you'll enjoy the hijinks, energy and vocal talents on stage, and maybe even discover a few new tunes to love. I know I did.

Honky Tonk Angels by Ted Swindley, presented at 6th Street Playhouse, 52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa CA, through February 4, 2018. Tickets $22.00-$35.00 can be purchased online at or by phone at 707-523-4185 ext. 1.