Prince George's Little Theatre opens its 53rd season with "The Hallelujah Girls," giving area audiences their first opportunity to enjoy this show that celebrates all holidays — from Christmas to the Chinese New Year and ending happily on the Fourth of July.
Each scene of this comedy at Bowie Playhouse is set on the eve of a holiday that is observed by frequently outrageous characters — including a quartet of well-ripened Georgia peaches who support one another as they strive for success in love and business. The ladies' progress unfolds in weekly gatherings at a spa created in an abandoned church.
In addition to "The Hallelujah Girls," the Asheville, N.C.-based playwriting team of Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten (collectively known as Jones Hope Wooten) created such widely produced Southern-flavored comedies as "Dearly Beloved" and "Dearly Departed." PGLT president Roy Peterson said he and his all-volunteer, nonprofit company are delighted to continue their tradition of "quality performances at affordable prices" with the area premiere of "The Hallelujah Girls."
Estelle Miller, who has directed plays for 46 years, expresses her admiration for this play about women who care about one another and "join forces to protect one of their own."
"This is a story of never giving up and never being finished with living," Miller writes.
To portray these women and their suitors, Miller assembled a terrific cast of six women and two men who show expert comedic timing. She also designed the production's nifty spa set.
Set in a small, present-day Georgia town, the story centers on Sugar Lee Thompkins, who decides after the sudden death of a friend to follow her dream of opening a spa. She buys an old church, which she refurbishes into Spa-Dee-Dah, where women can come for a haircut, manicure or massage.
Gathering there every Friday are friends Mavis Flowers, who finds little excitement in her marriage; Carlene Travis, whose three husbands have died, leaving her unsure about finding a fourth; and Nita Mooney, who can't enjoy life because she is frequently bailing her adult son out of legal trouble.
Free spirit Crystal Hart flamboyantly costumes herself to celebrate every holiday and writes lyrics for each one, set to Christmas carol melodies.
And wealthy socialite Bunny Sutherland tries to destroy Sugar Lee's business so she can buy the church property as the site for a historical museum.
Sugar Lee's high school love, Bobby Dwayne Dillahunt, returns unexpectedly after 30 years to become her much-needed handyman. Black widow Carlene finds a new suitor in mailman Porter Padgett.
Known to Bowie Playhouse audiences for his many performances and to Children's Theatre of Annapolis audiences as well, actor Greg Anderson, as Dillahunt, neatly delivers clever banter along with down-home pizazz while trying to rekindle the flame with Sugar Lee.
Paul Berry makes his PGLT debut as Padgett, Carlene's timid suitor, drawing many laughs from the audience.
Often admired by Colonial Players and Annapolis Summer Garden audiences, Kathryn Huston makes a strong debut with PGLT as Carlene, resigned to remaining single after the last of her three husbands died of snakebite "after skinny-dipping in Lake Moccasin."
Returning to Prince George's Little Theatre after a five-year absence, Julia Frank plays Nita, whose life seems permanently on hold as she constantly bails out her jailbird son. Compelled to take on a variety of weird jobs requiring strange costumes, Nita is comical in her exhausted desperation.
Edye Smith, in her first role with the company, convincingly portrays Sugar Lee as a courageous, middle-aged woman pursuing her dream of owning a business, and inspiring the others to follow their dreams. It seems to be a case of art imitating life, as Smith embarks on a stage career while acknowledging her good fortune "to debut on the PGLT stage with such a talented and fun group of actors."
TiaJuana Rountree steals her every scene as the offbeat Crystal, who joyously celebrates every holiday in outrageous costumes, brightly singing her original jingles and delivering fresh-baked delicacies along with perfectly placed comic lines.
Barbara Webber expertly delivers every wicked barb as haughty Bunny, evoking amusing reactions from the Spa-Dee-Dah regulars and Sugar Lee.
Gayle Negri designed the over-the-top holiday costumes for Crystal, bold ones for Bunny and made all other characters fittingly garbed as well.
We may find the play's small-town humor familiar, in the genre of "Steel Magnolias," but it is entertaining and far beyond the usual holiday fare.
"The Hallelujah Girls" continues weekends through Dec. 23 at Bowie Playhouse. For tickets ($20 for adults and $15 for seniors and students), call the PGLT box office at 301-937-7458.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times