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Twenty-year Raleigh Little Theatre veteran and four-time Cantey winner Alison Lawrence and newcomers Tina Vance and Lucy Howard make beautiful music together in the RLT’s entertaining presentation of The Honky Tonk Angels, Ted Swindley’s musical revue about three spunky women who lead humdrum lives but dream of becoming country-music divas. When they separately decide to make one more grab at the proverbial brass ring, and hop a Greyhound bus for Nashville, a.k.a. Music City, USA, they meet en route and form a trio called (you guessed it) The Honky Tonk Angels.
With its familiar sitcom characters and paper-thin plot, The Honky Tonk Angels is primarily a country-music concert, with a few brief comic interludes thrown in to spice things up. Alison Lawrence plays Angela, an overworked and underappreciated Waxahatchee, Texas housewife and feisty Domestic Goddess a la Roseanne Barr; Tina Vance portrays Sue Ellen, a tough twice-divorced small-town Texas career woman relocated to Los Angeles, and saddled with a male-chauvinist-pig boss a la Dolly Parton in the movie 9 to 5; and Lucy Howard plays Darlene, a poor, sweet West Virginia girl now living the Mississippi Delta, where she takes care of her widowed father and mourns the death of her boyfriend Billy Joe.
Alison Lawrence is a roly-poly wisecracking scream as the self-described “queen of a double-wide trailer,” with six kids and a mountain of dirty clothes to wash and iron, including her hubby’s double-wide boxer shorts. Lawrence’s ironic rendition of Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man” and her amusing interpretations of “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ (with Lovin’ on Your Mind)” and “The Pill,” both by Loretta Lynn, are mere preludes for her show-stopping version of Jeannie C. Riley’s hit “Harper Valley PTA.”
Tina Vance puts her own stamp on Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” and Nancy Sinatra’s hit “These Boots Are Made for Walking,” but she gets the biggest laughs—in ersatz ancient Egyptian costume—for her riotous rendition of Pam Tillis’ chart-topper “Cleopatra, Queen of Denial.” And Lucy Howard demonstrates her versatility as a singer with her passionate performances of Loretta Lynn’s signature song “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and Bobbie Gentry’s murky Southern gothic ballad “Ode to Billy Joe.”
But it is the heavenly harmonizing of Alison Lawrence, Tina Vance, and Lucy Howard on the show’s gospel numbers (“I’ll Fly Away,” “Amazing Grace,” “Will This Circle Be Unbroken”), the Dolly Parton/Whitney Houston hit “I’ll Always Love You”; and hard-core country songs such as Kitty Wells’ “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” that makes The Honky Tonk Angels such a treat for the ear, and propelled the Sunday matinee audience to its feet for a hearty standing ovation at the final curtain.
Brisk musical staging by director Haskell Fitz-Simons and choreographer Carrie Santiago complements the marvelous musicianship of musical director Diane Petteway, Dave Gourley (lead guitar, fiddle, steel guitar, mandolin), Mike Harris (bass), John Lesnik (electric guitar), Mack Poole (drums), Cecil Pope (rhythm guitar), and Lindsay Rosebrock (piano). Together, they provide solid backing for this fictional Nashville trio, as well as contribute their own version of Confederate Railroad’s “ I Like My Women a Little Bit Trashy” at the start of the second act.
Scenic designer Neal Williamson’s multilevel set and lighting designer Roger Bridges’ artful illumination of the proceedings help facilitate the production’s quick cuts from home, office, and bus scenes to the nightclub stage where The Honky Tonk Angels perform their farewell concert. But it is costume designer Vicki Olson’s fabulous off-stage and on-stage outfits that provide the show’s most enduring visual highlights. Whether stitching everyday duds or conceiving elaborate sequined glad rags, Olson gives each woman a stylish wardrobe, so that she looks as good as she sounds.
Raleigh Little Theatre presents The Honky Tonk Angels Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 10-12, 17-19, and 24-26, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Aug. 13, 20, and 27, at 3 p.m. in its Cantey V. Sutton Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $17 Thursday/Friday/Sunday ($13 students and seniors 62+) and $21 Saturday. 919/821-3111 or via e-tix at the presenter's site. Note: Assistive listening devices are available for all shows, and all shows are wheelchair accessible. Raleigh Little Theatre: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/performances/honkytonkangels.html [inactive 7/07]. Ted Swindley Productions, Inc.: http://www.tedswindleyproductions.com/angels.htm [inactive 8/08].