If you are looking for a show to get you in the Christmas mood but simply can’t face one more version of A Christmas Carol, Bowie Community Theatre invites y’all to come to the small town of Fayro, Texas, for a rollicking good time with Christmas Belles.
Christmas Belles is a holiday treat from Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten, the writers behind Dearly Beloved and Dearly Departed. Like those scripts, this one is full of funny and perceptive dialogue that pokes fun at the characters and their foibles but has a core of real sweetness. The themes of family bonds and second chances shine through the laughter and give the story some genuinely touching moments.
This time around, the Futrelle Sisters come together to help stage the annual Christmas program at the Tabernacle of the Lamb. Honey Raye (Nina Harris), who is counting on this program to improve her badly tarnished reputation, has taken over direction of the program from Miss Geneva Musgrave (Joanne Bauer), the proprietress of the local florist shop and Greyhound bus terminal. Miss Geneva, who has directed the program for the past 27 years, has taken this news badly and is determined to take back the production.
Honey Raye has big plans that include a celebrity guest, special effects, and a real live sheep in the stable. Her sister Frankie (Barbara Webber) has big plans of her own as the result of a surprise late-in-life pregnancy with twins, already overdue. Her other sister Twink (Edye Smith, in a wonderfully funny physical turn), who gets a 1-day work release from jail, has plans to get revenge on the no-good ex-boyfriend who dumped her after 16-1/2 years. Need I say that things rarely turn out as planned?
And the Futrelle Sisters aren’t the only ones whose plans don’t turn out exactly as hoped. For example, wealthy snob Patsy Price (played with delicious venom by Anne Hull) has bought her way into the show and plans to be the highlight of the production with her telling of the Christmas story. Her performance is memorable, to say the least. Shy young pastor Justin (a convincingly awkward Paul Pesnell) plans to propose to Frankie’s daughter G.J. (played with winning naivete and heart by Lily Marx-Webber) and present her with an engagement ring. I leave you to discover how that goes. Frankie’s lovable husband Dub (Brett Rohrer) plans to make some extra money by playing Santa Claus in a local big-box store; unfortunately, he did not plan on having to pass a kidney stone, to riotous effect.
In addition, and much to the annoyance of her sisters, Frankie insists on including her new friend Rhonda Lynn Lampley (played by Kathryn Huston, whose comic timing is impeccable) in all the goings-on.
Director Jennifer Franklin and her cast do a marvelous job of bringing these denizens of Fayro to vibrant life. As Honey Raye, Nina Harris is a bundle of energy and mounting frustration. Adding insult to injury, while her carefully planned Christmas extravaganza spirals wildly out of control in the face of a mass food poisoning outbreak, a celebrity no-show, costume issues, and a malevolent sheep, she must also contend with hot flashes and Miss Geneva’s meddling.
Joanne Bauer is marvelous as Miss Geneva, the disgruntled ousted director. Her opening monologue sums up the situation in a very funny nutshell and sets the show in motion. Refusing to accept her dismissal, she shows up at the tabernacle and constantly bursts onto the scene with obvious relish to announce the latest disaster. I might never again be able to hear the words “Okay people, listen up!” without flinching a little.
Barbara Webber and Brett Rohrer, who play Frankie and Dub, give wonderful performances and provide a rock-solid foundation to anchor the craziness. They have terrific and believable chemistry as a long-married, loving couple and are a joy to watch.
Special mention must go to James McDaniel, whose Deputy John Curtis Buntner is an absolute delight. He combines the gentle wisdom of Sheriff Andy Taylor with the absurd physicality of Barney Fife to create a hugely funny and immensely lovable character. His scenes with Edye Smith’s Twink as a woman scorned are laugh out loud funny.
Also deserving of special mention is John Degnan for his portrayal of Raynerd Chisum. Raynerd is a man of childlike simplicity with absolutely no filters, which makes his observations utterly truthful and very funny indeed. Degnan treads delicately and never lets Raynerd’s sweetness become cloying or phony. Raynerd’s love for Christmas is a thing of beauty and a lovely touch in the show.
Costume Designer Tiffani Savage has dressed the cast in wonderfully tacky Christmas sweaters, costumes for the Nativity that look convincingly home-made, a ratty Santa suit, and a dazzling costume fit for a king.
Terri Averill’s set is cleverly designed to create a number of different spaces without the need for lengthy scene changes. The use of flown-in small flats and drops and focused lighting from Lighting Designer Garrett Hyde keep the show moving and keep the many blackouts mercifully short.
At times during the show, the pacing could have been a bit livelier, but I am certain the actors’ enthusiasm will resolve that issue in subsequent performances. The audience for the performance I attended laughed loudly and often, and they left the theater with big smiles on their faces. I didn’t see a Scrooge in the bunch.
Tickets will sell out quickly for this holiday confection, so reserve your seats now and then jingle all the way to the Bowie Playhouse for Christmas Belles.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.
Christmas Belles plays through December 20, 2015 at Bowie Community Theatre, performing at The Bowie Playhouse — 16500 White Marsh Park Drive in Bowie, MD. For tickets please call the box office at (301) 805-0219, or purchase them online.