Three-member cast delivers on every note at OST
The bar has been set high for the 62nd season of the Okoboji Summer Theatre with the opening musical “Honky Tonk Angels.”
The actors are talented performers, with a script and score that delivers on every level. There’s humor, sarcasm, heartbreak and lots of love.
Created by Ted Swindley, “Honky Tonk Angels” is reminiscent of another of Swindley’s productions, “Always…Patsy Cline.”
With a cast of just three, but a song list of more than 30, you will hear well-known country and traditional gospel titles like “Stand By Your Man,” “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “I Will Always Love You,” “Delta Dawn,” “Amazing Grace” and “I’ll Fly Away.”
The songs are delivered with energy and emotion, making it difficult to single out particular favorites.
Act One tells the converging stories of three different women and the circumstances that lead them to board a Greyhound bus bound for Nashville. Act Two takes place on closing night of a six-week run by the Honky Tonk Angels at the Honky Tonk Heaven saloon, which is styled like a variety show.
Angela, played by Stephens student Aubrey Hicks, is the “queen of a double-wide trailer.” Her husband goes by the nickname Bubba and she is mother to six children. Hicks is tough and spunky, and plays her part with a good dose of comedy. You will laugh as she irons Bubba’s shirt, and again as she puffs a cigarette during the “Harper Valley PTA” number. Her voice is clear, powerful and gravely when she wants it to be.
Sue Ellen, a sexy blonde from Los Angeles, has been chasing dreams and falling for the wrong men her entire adult life.
She is ashamed to be twice divorced and finally decides to leave a hostile work environment and set out for Nashville. Natalie Irlmeier fills the part perfectly, singing with a clear soprano and producing wonderful harmonies. She brings the right amount of attitude to her dance steps in “These Boots Were Made for Walking” and as Cleopatra in “Queen of Denial.”
Colleen O’Brien plays Darlene, a poor country girl who suffers from a twice-broken heart yet dreams of something bigger than her circumstances. Her voice is amazing — deep and rich with an unbelievable range. Her solos — songs like “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “Ode to Billy Joe” and “Delta Dawn” — are haunting and filled with heartbreak.
Together the trio are a perfectly unlikely combination. All different sizes, all different looks, all different backgrounds, but over the course of a few hours together on a bus they surprise themselves by establishing a connection and eventually decide to pursue their musical dream together.
Swindley’s creation is a masterful weaving of seemingly unrelated songs into one beautiful story.
The set is reminiscent of a hay loft, with weathered wood and open railings that create a stage for the four-member band. Three distinct scenes are part of the opening — Angela’s redneck double wide trailer, Sue Ellen’s secretarial desk at the office and Darlene’s rundown shack. After the opening numbers the three sets disappear and a platform of uncomfortable bus seats fills the stage.
The second act set includes a sparkly stage entrance and plenty of honky tonk lights.
Director and choreographer Paul E. Finocchiaro coaxes stellar performances from his cast and helps them develop the personalities of their characters. Musical director Tom Andes is joined by band members Greg Forney, Dalton Peterson and Tim Schumacher.
Stage manager is Cheyenne Hensley with Ashley Harrison handling costume design. Lighting designer is Herbert Moore, set designer is Nathan Lee and sound designer is Michael Burke. Dance captain is Chelsea Deters.
Next up on the main stage is Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express,” a mystery, which runs June 18-23.