REVIEW: Mill Town Players’ ‘Honky Tonk Angels’ is Heavenly Fun

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Photo credit: Escobar Photography L to R: Hannah E. Smith, Meghan Cole, Katie Halstensgard

BY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC

Once upon a time, there were three little girls who wanted to be county music stars. And they were each assigned very mundane duties in life. But Will Ragland took them away from all of that and now they work for the Mill Town Players. Please welcome to the Pelzer Auditorium stage the “Honky Tonk Angels.”

Starring in Ted Swindley’s (“Always…Patsy Cline”) hilarious romp through some 35 country music standards, are Will’s Angels: Sue Ellen (Meghan Cole), Darlene (Hannah E. Smith) and Angela (Katie Halstensgard).

Sue Ellen, the drop dead-gorgeous, twice-divorced, Texas-bred blonde now lives in Los Angeles as a secretary with a hands-on boss, which naturally opens the office door to Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.” Many audience members will recall Cole’s dynamite performance as Doralee in the Market Theatre Company’s (a troupe she co-founded) production of “9 to 5.” And she reprises this career gal anthem with razzle dazzle and aplomb.

Smith’s character is the youngest in the trio. A poor young and naïve woman in West Virginia who has just lost her mother, Darlene is loosely modeled after Loretta Lynn and is also a “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”

And then there’s Angela, who lives in a mobile home in Texas with her six children and doofus husband named, “yes, you guessed it,” Bubba.  Sweet and brimming with a bubbly disposition, Halstensgard is a force of nature in “Honky Tonk Angels.” Last seen in last year’s “Oklahoma!” she gives Angela an irresistible charm when she’s sardonically belting out Loretta Lynn’s “Don’t Come Home A Drinkin’” and the liberating “The Pill” using a feather duster as a microphone.

The gals eventually meet on a Greyhound bus bound for Nashville where they relay their backstories in the most heartfelt part of the show, and Halstensgard casually munches on an endless succession of snacks such as Twizzlers, cheese puffs, Twinkies and bologna sandwiches on white bread. And as they pull into Tennessee, the gals decide to form a music trio the “Honky Tonk Angel.”

The first act is much stronger in musical selections with a slew of iconic tunes: Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man,” the Helen Reddy/Tanya Tucker hit “Delta Dawn,” Cole’s leggy Jessica Simpson rendition of “These Boots Are Made for Walking’”, and the gals’ exquisite vocal blending in Dolly Parton’s “Paradise Road” and “I Will Always Love You.”

But act two see the ladies fulfill their dreams entertaining at a seedy honky tonk and contains some genuine showstoppers. Cole is a knockout is the slightly-seductive novelty song “Cleopatra: Queen of Denial” with all of the gals in Egyptian attire. Smith, who is also music director for this production, delivers a perfect Marilyn Monroe-inspired cover of Reba McEntire’s “Fancy.” And Halstensgard steals the show in a beehive wig as she scolds the members of the “Harper Valley PTA.”

But no country show would be complete without some gospel traditionals. The audience is treated to “I’ll Fly Away” and a stupendous and harmonious “Amazing Grace,” among others.

Swindley’s book for this review is big on heart but light on substance, but Director and Choreographer Kimberlee Ferreira is an pro storyteller and has wisely cast these angels, who are completely vested in these stock characters and ascend with ripe vocal stylings.

The success of “Honky Tonk Angels” also rests with the excellent band featuring some well-known and familiar faces: Timothy J. Lee on guitar, Russ Chapman back on bass guitar, McKelvie Wilder on keyboard, Robert Johnson on drums, Trent Gilbert on steel guitar and Kayla Wells on fiddle.

And all of this takes place on Ragland’s rustic set design with timbers, accented by Tony Penna’s fantastic lighting (including a real neon light). Sissy Beck returns as costume designer, Nancy Burkard is props mistress, Halstensgard is stage manager and Kim Morgan is assistant stage manager.

“Honky Tonk Angels” is a sure-fire hit for the Mill Town Players. However, I did have a couple of tiny qualms about this production: No woman leaves their purse on an adjacent empty seat on a Greyhound bus? And the wigs for Ms. Smith are not up to the usual standard for the Mill Town Players.

Nonetheless, “Honky Tonk Angels” is a thoroughly enjoyable experience and a wise choice to launch the company’s fourth season. And most of all, it does prove that dreams can come true.

“Honky Tonk Angels” continues Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through Oct. 15 at the Pelzer Auditorium, 214 Libby St. in Pelzer. For tickets, call (864)947-8000 or visit http://www.milltownplayers.org.

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