‘The Hallelujah Girls’ at Prince George’s Little Theatre by Amanda Gunther

Need a break from the stresses of the holiday season? How about a soak in the sauna to ease all the pains of holiday shopping? Or a facial and mani/pedi to get your mind off all the decorating you still have to do? Well there’s no better place to do it than at Spa-Dee-Da — that is if they can manage to keep their doors from being bulldozed by the self-proclaimed town martyr, who is really more than a nightmare. The Hallelujah Girls will have you laughing all the way as the Prince George’s Little Theatre comedic offering for the Christmas season. Directed by Estelle Miller, this feel-good comedy is reminiscent of a modern day Steel Magnolias, with none of the tragic bits and all of the humor.

(round the piano from left to right) Sugar Lee (Edye Smith), Carlene (Kathryn Huston), Nita (Julia Frank), Mavis (Linda Smith), and Crystal (TiaJuana Rountree). Photo by Roy Peterson.

The one thing that holds this production back from being perfection is the mismanaged scene changes. While Director Estelle Miller doubled up as the Set Designer, her incredible salon that was built inside the run-down walls of a dusty old church was not executed properly in its transitions. There were long moments of darkness while one or two stage hands shifted large props about, changing scenery, unveiling wall paneling in a different color, and creating a new space on the stage. Full length pop culture and country music songs were played during these blackouts, one of them had to be repeated because the change did not finish in time. This really broke up the action of the show and stifled the otherwise natural pacing of the performance.

Miller does, however, master the creative aspect of things within the text of the script. Giving a wacky character an even crazier edge, Miller added little songs for the character to sing; transforming the melodies and rhythms of traditional Christmas carols into ‘every holiday’ songs — even making one for the spa to the tune of “Joy to the World” which was ingeniously clever.

Costume Designer Gayle Negri may not have had to do much in way of the everyday outfits for the ladies, but she did pull off a doozey for Crystal — the character who had a unique costume for every holiday, including Chinese New Year! From the red and gold kimono to the bright green Lady Liberty Gown, Negri insured that each of the zany outfits fitted Crystal’s cracked personality and was holiday appropriate.

The text really does wonders for the show; being packed full of humor and these women really know how to execute their comic timing. Mavis (Linda Smith) in particular does a brilliant job of leveling her one-liners so that they get that little extra kick and zing; stinging especially when the community cat, Bunny Sutherland is involved. Smith eases her way through her lines, letting the punches roll and goes with whatever is flowing on the stage at the time.

And with a passion — perhaps too deeply ingrained — for trashy romance novels, Nita (Julia Frank) sends the audience into peals of laughter every time she begins to relate a particular situation to some god awful beach trash novel she’s read or is currently reading. The mousier one of the bunch, Frank knows exactly when to pipe up for added comic relief and make her role in the fantastic five truly memorable.

There’s funny and then there’s hilarious. And Crystal (TiaJuana Rountree) is not only hilarious, she’s a few cards short of a full deck. Ever the unique duck with her own special brand of waddle, Rountree’s character is a gut-busting element of comedy in this production. Her enthusiasm which is twined up into each and every holiday peaks to unnatural heights and her slightly off-kilter sense of logic is nothing short of uproarious. Rountree digs into the character pulling out all the stops to really let this character breath in the happy gas.

While equally as funny but in a much more debasing way, Bunny Sutherland (Barbara Webber) steals the thunder as queen ‘b’ in the hive. She’s a nasty vicious unctuous character that just puts the screws to everyone beneath her (and that’s everyone). Webber has a bite of southern charm that is facetious and downright mean; a sleazy sort of arrogance about her that she doesn’t even try to hide, making her character all the more entertaining as she bucks heads with Sugar Lee over property rights.

Then there’s the queen motivator. Miss Sugar Lee Thompkins (Edye Smith). She’s the voice of reason and inspirational drive, trying to wrangle all the plus 50’s into doing something with their lives. Never for a second believing that life is like jello and once it’s set, it’s set — Edye Smith dives into her character with a vehement passion for living life to the fullest. With a whip-smart attitude always used for good (like bringing Bunny down a peg or two) this actress is on fire with her perfected attitude.

Her genuine conflict comes, not just from Bunny and overcoming being stuck in the rut of life, but when her ex-fiancé shows up as the contract worker to install the sauna in her spa. Bobby Dwayne (Greg Anderson) is the perfect foil for Smith’s character as those awkward still burning romantic tensions burble between them, roiling beneath the surface of their dialogue waiting to erupt. Anderson is raw and earthy in his portrayal of the down home contractor, living up the attention from the other ladies of the salon while keeping his cool to the best of his ability with Sugar Lee.

The Hallelujah Girls is a witty comedy that really is relatble to everyone in all walks of life, not just those edging into silver maturity. It reminds the audience that life is really about finding the happiness and not putting it on hold because you never know how short it really is.

So take a load off, enjoy the holiday season at Spa-Dee-Da and relax with a hilarious comedy that will put you in the right mood to finish up the holidays.

The Cast of ‘The Hallelujah Girls.’ Photo by Roy Peterson.

Running Time: Two hours and ten minutes, with one intermission.

The Hallelujah Girls plays through December 23, 2012, at The Bowie Playhouse – located in White Marsh Park, in Bowie, MD. For tickets,call the box office at (301) 937-7458, or purchase them online.


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