Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Honky Tonk Angels
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 songsa send-up of "Stand by Your Man" by Angela, Sue Ellen's "Nine to Five," and "Ode to Billy Joe" by Darleneand 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 www.6thstreetplayhouse.com or by phone at 707-523-4185 ext. 1.