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THEATER REVIEW Honky Tonk Angels
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2016-12-28

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Playwright: Ted Swindley. At: Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre at the No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood Ave, Tickets: $34-$39. Runs through: Jan. 29

There's these three young women hoping to make it in show business, see. Since Angela is from East Texas, Darlene from West Virginia and Sue Ellen from Houston by way of Los Angeles, "show business" means Nashville, and since they are all church-raised girls, their fortuitous meeting in a Greyhound station is viewed as a Sign From Above, even before their voices are discovered to blend in perfect Appalachian harmony. Sure enough, by Act Two, durned if they aren't performing together under the collective label of —you guessed it—the Honky Tonk Angels, as in "It Wasn't God Who Made [Honky Tonk Angels]."

Ted Swindley's premise is recycled from a thousand Hollywood musicals, so it should come as no surprise that his plot and characters are cobbled together out of lyrics from the featured repertoire: Angela is a housewife, weary of standing by her man and his coming home a-drinkin' with lovin' on his mind, who decides that her boots were made for walking. Sue Ellen has abandoned working nine-to-five to reconnect with her childhood home. Darlene was born a coal miner's daughter, but after Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchee Bridge, she packed up her guitar and set out to fulfill the dream they shared.

What elevates this gynecentric fantasy above fan-fiction level is the infectious charm conveyed by our Dixie Bells ( two imitation and one authentic ) who warble, croon and chicken-walk through a staggering 28 honkers in just over two hours, wearing smiles that light up the room like a Kentucky sunrise. The score ranges from trad favorites like "Barroom Habits" and "Almost Persuaded" to crossover hits like "Harper Valley PTA" and "Calling All Angels" with forays into novelties like "Cleopatra, Queen of Denial" and a delightful mash-up of an upbeat "Time For Me to Fly" and the gospel hymn "I'll Fly Away." The stageside band led by musical director Jeremy Ramey at the ivories gets its moment in the spotlight, too, ripping it up on the bluegrass show-stopper "Rocky Top."

If your previous impression of country music is one of sexist ditties like "Getcher Biscuits in the Oven and Yer Buns into Bed" ( that's not made up, by the way ), Theo Ubique offers an opportunity to become acquainted with a genre you may be surprised to learn that you know better than you thought. Adam Veness and James Kolditz's decor make the No Exit Cafe cozy enough to make you forget it's winter outside and newly hired chef Tal Caspi will even feed you sweet-potato pie at intermission.


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