By Barry Reszel
Any production that begins with Colette Todd crooning into my ear from a scant six inches away gets a “highly recommended” from this reviewer.
Honky Tonk Angels…you had me at, “Hello.”
This latest production from the brightest of Chicagoland’s small theatre gems, Theo Ubique, tells the story of three gutsy country gals with one-way tickets to life change who meet in a bus stop and decide going it together beats doing it alone. Together they trek to Nashville, sharing their stories in Act 1 and contemplating their uncertain futures apart in Act 2 as the trio performs its final concert as the Honky Tonk Angels.
Bless their hearts.
This sweet country and western jukebox musical comes from Ted Swindley, the same creative playwright whose Always…Patsy Cline enthralled Theo’s audiences last year. This perfect follow-up features a playlist of more than 25 mostly country songs, many familiar to all folks, regardless of Grand Ole Opry affection.
“Stand By Your Man,” “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “9 to 5,” “Delta Dawn,” “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” “Harper Valley PTA” and “Rocky Top” (GO VOLS!) are just a few of the splendid offerings.
They’re all performed in a smattering of solos, duets and trios by three of the loveliest voices in the Midwest. Joining Todd as the trio’s leader, at-home mom escapee Angela, are the angelic Jacquelyne Jones as Sue Ellen, a Southerner returning home to Dixie from LA, and adorable Leryn Turlington as the next Carrie Underwood, the pride of West Virginia, Darlene.
Indeed each of these ladies comes to the Chicago premiere of Honky Tonk on the heels of highly acclaimed recent performances. All three wowed this year as leading ladies—Todd as Diana in Boho’s production of Next to Normal, Jones as lead bitch Heather Chandler in Kokandy’s Heathers and Turlington, a welcome newcomer from Oklahoma, as Kim McAfee in Drury Lane’s Bye Bye Birdie.
With voices like theirs combined with the exceptional musical leadership of Tennessee-bred Jeremy Ramey, indeed an “honorary” fourth cast member for his visibly spirited playing, it’s clear this creative team is have a great time together,
Ramey is supported by three talented musicians—Carlos Mendoza on drums, Alex Piazza on bass and Perry Cowdery on guitar. Courtney Crouse‘s wonderful direction uses every nook of the 50ish-seat No Exit Cafe while Cameron Turner‘s just-right choreography and Bill Morey‘s appropriate county costuming perfectly complement Adam Veness‘ intricate multi-level Honky Tonk. James Kolditz‘s lighting, with emphasis on the band and soloists, warms the atmosphere.
Theo’s Artistic Director Fred Anzevino really should hire out as a consultant for his ability to attract the metropolis’ best talent and put them into devices that succeed beyond expectations.
For those who’ve not made it to this quaint Rogers Park locale, remember that winter boots are made for walkin’ and take in a heavenly performance of Honky Tonk Angels.
Amazing Grace, indeed.
Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre presents “Honky Tonk Angels,” through January 29 at the No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood Avenue, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here.