Honky Tonk Laundry - Theatre Review

By Bill Garry

At the end of "Honky Tonk Laundry," the new jukebox musical from writer-director Roger Bean (of "The Marvelous Wonderettes" fame), you'll leave the theatre feelin' happy, energized and loved. The only problem is you have to sit through a numbing first act to get to the fabulous second.

This two-character show features two talented musical theatre pros -- Bets Malone (as a resigned Lana Mae Hopkins) and Misty Cotton (as wacky Katie Lane Murphy). Ms. Malone and Ms. Cotton do their best to act and emote in between the stacked-up song list, conveying a lot through body language.

You can almost smell the fried chicken when Lana Mae steps on stage, slumped over and singing the first of many uptempo, yet dog-gone sad, anthems. When Katie Lane enters in a panic, the mother hen in Lana Mae emerges and the show is off to the races: Katie Lane in trouble, Lana Mae rescuing and avoiding her own need for rescue. The two, on the verge of middle age, share their man troubles and the dreams they set aside for their men. All while dealing with the customers, and memories, that inhabit Lana Mae's third-generation laundromat.

Roger Bean and his company are a musical-makin' machine, with a mess of jukebox musicals touring the world. This show was a little too machine-y for my tastes -- the actresses, battling the volume of the pre-recorded music, deliver every song in the first act in full belt. Songs like "Independence Day," "Before He Cheats," and "Queen of Denial" are given delicious comic energy by Ms. Cotton, but the effect is lost when all the songs (and there are about 20-minutes too many) are presented in full force. The songs cover old-fashioned country themes -- cheatin', divorcin' and standin' by your man. The dialogue is old-fashioned, too, even though the action is set in the current day and references to pharmaceuticals and smartphone apps like Etsy and Lyft are thrown about. What's missing is some modern grit and self-awareness. Have they not heard of Oprah? Have they not watched Lifetime? A female collaborator could have helped Mr. Bean add more authentic moments to the show.

The more human, less mechanical, second act is a show within a show -- Lana Mae and Katie Lane turn their laundromat into a night club to fulfill Lana Mae's dream of singing at the Grand Ole Opry. With its more varied orchestrations and better anthem/ballad ratio, this act lets Ms. Malone and Ms. Cotton show off their warmth and contrast their characters' intelligence and approaches to life. They joke with the audience and beat up, and love on, some of the men.

Through show-stopping numbers (again, too many) like "Smile" and "Potential New Boyfriend," Lana Mae's big heart bursts wide open and Katie Lane finds confidence without chemical fortification.

In the end, each has bent the other towards their way of thinking and enrolls the audience in their friendship. Design and crafts are top rate. Standouts: Tom Buderwitz's lived-in set which, together with Steven Young's lighting, turns phony laundry machines into Nashville dream catchers; Renetta Lloyd's costumes and Byron Batista's hair and makeup, which show respect for the characters (except for bad boy Earl and town slut Raelene who get the underwear they deserve) while walking the line between reality and caricature.

"Honky Tonk Laundry" plays through September 17 at Hudson Mainstage Theatre.

Posted By Discover Hollywood on August 16, 2017 09:58 am | Permalink