Three celestial voices save "Honky Tonk Angels" from a second-hand story. 

Heavenly Hoedown

Watch out Dolly, Linda, and Emmylou. For its peppy and gregarious production of "Honky Tonk Angels," the Swift Creek Mill Theatre has brought together a trio of female voices that may rival the famous Parton / Ronstadt / Harris collaboration for sheer sonic power and emotional resonance.

Each of the show's stars — Robin Arthur, Robyn O'Neill, and Debra Wagoner — has an impressive set of pipes. And when these three team up to deliver "Honky Tonk's" lively country and traditional tunes the atmosphere crackles with such high-voltage electricity you can't watch this show without getting energized.

With its rapid-fire lineup of 30 mostly up-tempo songs, "Honky Tonk" gives these vocalists plenty of opportunities to rock the rafters. But this trio is also made up of some excellent actresses. With a barely-there plot that virtually disappears in the second act, the show unfortunately robs the cast members of equal opportunities to show off their acting chops. Even so, the production succeeds because of the invigorating musical numbers and an eager-to-please innocence that will charm the pants off even the most cynical theater snob.

Fate brings these "Angels" together during a bus ride to Nashville. The trailer-trashy Angela (O'Neill) is escaping her double-wide life in West Virginia and her marriage to a long-haul loser named Bubba. Sweet Darlene (Wagoner) is making the trip from the Mississippi Delta where her dreams were being squelched by a dependent daddy. And the sexy, twice-divorced Sue Ellen (Arthur) is fleeing Los Angeles and the lecherous advances of her boss.

Each life story is told through a series of popular songs, from the obvious (Dolly Parton's "9 to 5") to the unexpected (REO Speedwagon's "Time For Me to Fly"). Wagoner, in particular, delivers her selections with an unfettered gusto that makes even the schmaltzy "I Will Always Love You" a winner. When the "Angels" meet they bond over a rendition of "Delta Dawn" and, from the time their voices first blend in glorious harmony, it's clear that they were made for each other.

The second act consists mostly of the "Angels" performing at a bar called Honky-Tonk Heaven. Only a tenuous thread of plotline is maintained through this part and Arthur and O'Neill are reduced to comic relief roles. Arthur delivers a winning "Cleopatra, Queen of Denial," and O'Neill is hilarious as the trampy Mrs. Johnson of "Harper Valley, PTA." But it's a shame to abandon the interesting characters Arthur and O'Neill have created for these one-dimensional throwaways.

Providing the sonic backdrop throughout is an outstanding band with musical director Paul Deiss on piano. His rollicking keyboard calisthenics are the highlight of unfamiliar songs like "Cornell Crawford." Guitarist Robert Kindle adds some hot licks of his own and even some mandolin picking in "Paradise Road." In one of the show's most rousing moments, the band steps up front and center with a kick-ass rendition of "Trashy Women" that starts off the second act right.

"Honky Tonk Angels" may not have a fleshed-out story. But it has three full-bodied voices at its service, making for a production with the energy and charm of an all-star country

Latest in Miscellany


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by DLHintz

Connect with Style Weekly

Copyright © 2021 Style Weekly
Richmond's alternative for news, arts, culture and opinion
All rights reserved
Powered by Foundation