They say every country song tells a story. A quick scan of the song titles in North Coast Rep’s latest, Honky Tonk Angels, do tell the story. Ted Swindley, who also created Always…Patsy Cline, picked the right songs for his three singers.
“Stand By Your Man” and “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin'” fit Angela (Kelli Maguire) who lives in a double-wide in Texas. In L.A. Sue Ellen (Merideth Kaye Clark), who has a lecherous boss, sings “9 to 5.” Finally, there’s this mite of a gal (Jenni-Lynn McMillin) from the Mississippi delta who laments ’bout being a “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”
The songs change the mood with “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’,” “Paradise Road,” “Time For Me to Fly,” and “I’ll Fly Away.” They fortuitously meet on an interstate bus headed for Nashville. And, as they say, “The rest is history.”
In Act II we meet them singing their last gig, each with her own plans for the future. That last concert is a delightful mix of songs and costumes. The songs include “Cleopatra, Queen of Denial,” “Harper Valley PTA,” “Sittin’ On the Front Porch Swing,” and a reprise of “Time For Me To Fly.”
Honky Tonk Angels is reminiscent of Swindley’s earlier work as well as the popular Mama Mia. Director David Ellenstein reunited two of the cast, Maguire and Clark, from the performance he directed at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.
As with this type of production, the songs are the thing, with just a tiny thread of a story entwining through the songs. The three young ladies have excellent voices that are probably just as comfortable with show tunes, as they are with country. The story has enough substance to evoke strong emotions from the audience.
McMillin’s Darlene, whose mama died and daddy is a bit of a problem, seems to have the most difficult time leaving for the big city and lights. Clark’s Sue Ellen really wants to take her job and shove it. Maguire’s Angela can easily leave her drinking husband, but leaving her six kids for a spell is a very difficult decision. They put on quite a show.
Costume Designer Beth Novak may have had an easy time in Act I; however, in Act II she created a multitude of unique costumes. There were also many wigs to compliment the various looks. Marty Burnett’s set provided the home locations for each singer, a bit of the interstate bus, and the Act II showroom. Bonnie Durben prop’ed the set well.
Special kudos to M. Scott Grabau for a sound design that provided a perfect balance between the band and the singers. Much appreciated. Mike Buckley’s lighting design complimented and defining the set. An unnamed follow spot operator did an admirable job being at the right place at the right time.
While Honky Tonk Angels is definitely not standard fare for North Coast Rep, it does bring their audiences a taste of something different extremely well performed. Musical Director W. Brent Sawyer did an excellent job. In the end, though, it is three lovely and talented women who made this show possible. We didn’t see understudy Jenn Grinels so might I suggest going to her website www.jenngrinels.com. She, too, is a very accomplished song stylist.
Merideth Clark, Kelli Maguire, Jenni-Lynn McMillin, understudy Jenn Grinells
Costume Designer Beth Novak
Costume Coordinator Jan Mah
Sound Designer M. Scott Grabau
Scenic Designer Marty Burnett
Prop Designer Bonnie Durben
Light Designer Mike Buckley
Total Rating: Two and half stars
Author: Ted Swindley
Director: David Ellenstein
Musical Director W. Brent Sawyer
Date Reviewed: September 8, 2007
Dates: September 8 to October 7, 2007
North Coast Repertory Theatre – Equity theatre
Solana Beach, California
Box Office Phone 858 481-1055.