I needed it. A lot. A musical that reminded me that “life is a gift.” A new holiday musical with heart, humor, and great new tunes. A most-welcomed and pleasant swift sleigh ride during these dark days and darker nights here in the nation’s capital.
Directed with an easy-going style by Eric Schaeffer, have yourself a merry little time at this fully home-grown new holiday musical called Silver Belles, now playing at Signature Theatre.
With over a dozen bluegrass and country musical numbers, with music and lyrics by Matt Conner, additional lyrics by Stephen Gregory Smith, and book by Allyson Currin, the show purrs along with the jolly piano work of Jacob Kidder. Musical direction is by Warren Freeman with choreography from Karma Camp. According to the Silver Belles program, the show is based on an idea by Cathy Alter and Sandra Johnson.
Sure, Silver Belles has easy-to-spot precursors from entertainment many a Baby Boomer may recall. A good sprinkle of Dolly Parton, more than a smidgen of Frank Capra, some dashes of recent Stephen Colbert skits, dusted with bits of Garrison Keillor. Heck, there is even a stuffed dog named Glen Campbell. Then it’s all nicely stirred and sometimes shaken (with one very special, very central movable set item from Scenic Designer James Kronzer) with great glee to become a lovely confection that brims with good cheer about life, the marvels of deep long friendships, and an enduring intimate marriage of equals.
Silver Belles is set in the small Tennessee town of Sylva Ridge during the Christmas season. A major fundraising event to provide funds for local orphans is a long tradition. The town and the orphans count on the Silver Belles – a group of local volunteers – to make things merry and bright. But, tragedy seems to be in store when Oralene (a convincing Donna Migliaccio who lights up the show with robust singing and acting), the longtime director of the town’s fundraiser Christmas Pageant, suddenly passes away.
Can the Silver Belles (Nova Y Payton, Ilona Dulaski, and Peggy Yates) come to the rescue? Can Oralene’s grief-stricken husband and guitar-pickin’ Earl (Dan Manning) find a way to assist with his music? Will the local radio station announcer Bo Jack (Naomi Jacobson with a heart of gold) be able to provide the saddened town some flicker of optimism? Might the dedicated spirit of Oralene somehow bring everyone and everything together keeping the cherished pageant alive? Well, what do you think?
Songs crafted by collaborators Conner and Smith have titles and lyrics that represent each character, as well as the show’s inner essence. Each character is introduced with a smartly-accomplished number that befits and depicts them as an individual – along with the well-rendered costumes by Kathleen Deldard. There is “Christmas Cookies” for Yates’ brightly smiling, perky, character Ruth Ann – who can twirl with the best-of-them. There is “The Friendly Beasts” for Dulaski’s eccentric endearing, rustic taxidermist Bernice, and “Mistletoe” for Payton’s sultry, gospel-voiced take on the multiple married Gloria. When they sing as a group, there is both harmony and good-natured winks.
Duets between Migliaccio and Manning are suitably sincere, ideally delivered ballads about what love can be in marriage between partners who so naturally care for each other. I heard some sniffles from the audience as lyrics like ‘Life is a gift” along with “Give what you must” came forth from “I Don’t Know What to Say” and the full company number “While the Gettin’ is Good!”
Silver Belles, is a charming holiday musical journey filled with delightful performances and holiday cheer.
In this season of the high art classics like The Nutcracker and A Christmas Carol, it’s so nice to have a new and good-natured, highly entertaining new quality entertainment just in time for the holidays.
Find your way to Campbell Avenue in Arlington’s Shirlington area. With its stunning holiday lights, its Christmas decorations, and plenty of places to window-shop and eat, a visit to Silver Belles at Signature’s ARK Theatre will leave you with plenty of holiday cheer.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with no intermission.