Chicago Theater Review: HONKY TONK ANGELS (Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre)

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by Lawrence Bommer on December 13, 2016

in Theater-Chicago


If winter needs warming, Honky Tonk Angels should heat up happy crowds at the No Exit Café in Chicago’s Rogers Park. The bubbly good time delivers a mix of downhome directness and rural sass. Created by Ted Swindley, who gave Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre its 2014 hit Always…Patsy Cline, this roadhouse romp prefers archetypes to stereotypes: It assembles three very driven country-western women who meet en route to Nashville. Too briefly, the ladies forge the title act, a dynamic trio that thrives on their differences and mellows with their heavenly harmonies.


Deftly staged by Courtney Crouse, the sweet show works both as a showcase for three tested, true talents and a salute to similar Southern songbirds, like the Mandrell and Carter sisters or the Dixie Chicks.

Colette Todd is red-headed, velvet-voiced Angela, from Waxahatchee, Texas, a self-appointed “Queen of the Double Wide” who’s taking time off from husband Bubba and six kids. When she wails “Stand by Your Man,” you know she’s paid those dues, and, when she fires off “Harper Valley PTA,” you know she gives better than she gets. In “Barroom Habits” she lays down the law against hubbies’ throwing up when they get home.


Jacquelyne Jones plays hard-boiled, leather-lunged Sue Ellen, a former cowgirl from “Toilet Bowl,” Texas who moved to L.A., got divorced (twice), endured a bad boss, and decided to become a career gal in her own right (and not someone else’s wrong). Considering the men she’s messed with, her signature solos have to be “These Boots Are Made for Walking” and the vocational anthem “9 to 5.” She can equally rejoice in having loved the luscious likes of hunk-a-doodle “Cornell Crawford.”


Finally, there’s demure ingenue Darlene (Leryn Turlington), a West Virginia songstress who hails from the Mississippi Delta and reluctantly leaves her doting dad to become the one member of the group to stay in Nashville after the group breaks up (in the miked second act’s farewell concert). With a gentle twang to her soft soprano, her soulful “Almost Persuaded” tearfully evokes lost love’s hardest fear, what might have been. Her “Ode to Billy Joe” incarnates righteous regret.


A jumping jukebox when crooning together, the winsome threesome regale us with hillbilly harmonies, country classics, and, thanks to music director and keyboard-player Jeremy Ramey, accurate ambiance as they deliver over two dozen favorites (“Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “I’ll Fly Away,” “Amazing Grace”) and rarities (“Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad,” “Cleopatra, Queen of Denial,” “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’”).


So well-distinguished that we feel where their songs come from as much as go, Todd, Jones and Turlington could easily be a Beale Street sensation or headliners at the Grand Ole Opry. Their songs run the gamut of their personalities—contentment (“Sittin’ on the Front Porch Swing”), hijinks and hoedowns (“Rocky Top, Tennessee”), broken and mended hearts (“Delta Dawn” and “Paradise Road”), unconditional ardor (“I Will Always Love You”), and fierce friendship in the folk hymn “May the Circle Be Unbroken,” my favorite of the night. And there’s two-stepping exuberance in the infectious first-act finale “Time for Me to Fly.”


This two-hour treats looks as good as it sounds: Set designer Adam Veness totally transforms the storefront space into a country-music mecca. With awesome authenticity, he’s packed it with farm implements, a hanging display of first-class Western boots, hurricane lamps, folk-art memorabilia, a barndoor backdrop with weathered decoration, and tribute pictures of Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton. The setting practically mints the music–and that’s the draw not to resist.


photos by Adam Veness

Honky Tonk Angel
Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre
No Exit Café, 6970 N. Glenwood Ave.
Thurs at 7:30; Fri & Sat at 8; Sun at 7
ends on January 29, 2017
for tickets, call 800.595.4849 or visit Theo Ubique

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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