I’m a huge Christmas fan and a proud East Tennessee girl, so when I read about Silver Belles, I was excited. I’m always looking for a way to bring a little bit of home into my Christmas here in NOVA. I laughed, I cried and even better than that, I knew these people. Silver Belles, currently playing at Signature Theatre is a holiday must see, especially for any Southerners with hearts weary for home.
Silver Belles, based on an idea by Cathy Alter & Sandra Johnson with book by Alyson Currin, music by Matt Conner and lyrics by Matt Conner and Stephen Gregory Smith tells the story of a locally famous Christmas pageant in a small town and the sassy women who perform the show. I love that it was set in Tennessee and there were so many of the women’s attitudes and actions that were so familiar to me; all except one. No funeral back home in East Tennessee happens in 24 hours. Things take a lot longer to get going down there. Plus you have run the announcements in the newspaper and give people a chance to attend the different events. I grew up in a very traditional Southern Baptist church so if there are two things I know, it’s Southern church ladies and funerals. Overall, the script was so delicious I could polish it off like a freshly baked pie. I enjoyed the original music, particularly “While the Gettin’ is Good.” But, I really loved the way that familiar songs were given new lyrics or new arrangements. The mash-ups were really awesome, I actually singing some of the lyrics even now.
The acting in this show is truly stellar. Donna Migliaccio delivers a dynamic and nuanced performance as Oralene, the recently deceased star and director of the pageant. Dan Manning as her sensitive husband Earl is the perfect foil. Ilona Dulaski is a perfectly nutty Berniece, every church or ladies group back home as at least one character! Peggy Yates’ performance as Ruth Ann was a particular favorite of mine because she felt the most like women who taught me and took care of me growing up. Nova Y. Payton (Dreamgirls), one of my favorite peformers in the DMV, plays the feisty younger Silver Belle, Gloria, with relish. Without a doubt, my favorite performance was from Naomi Jacobson as Bo Jack. Her heart, humility and humor shone as this character and she so perfectly reminded me of my great-aunt that I couldn’t help but fall in love with her character.
Both the scenic design by James Kronzer and lighting design by Kelly Rudolph helped create a world both at home at in a cozy cabin or a decked out holiday pageant. But, the costumes really got me. Kathleen Geldard totally knocked it out of the park with her costume designs. Every piece was perfect for the world and the characters.
Santa hats off to director Eric Schaeffer, the cast, crew and production team of Silver Belles. I’m ready for Christmas now!
Kari Liked: I think that Silver Belles is superb, I really love it. But, my favorite parts were the mash-ups and Naomi Jacobson’s performance as Bo Jack.
Kari Didn’t Like: A few of the small cultural inaccuracies were my only peeve. I was sad when it was over. It is such a great show and it flies. I want more!
Right now, Signature Theater is running the cutest piece of a country music I’ve ever seen. Silver Belles is a rollicking good time with touches of warmth, and plenty of enjoyable songs and laughs.
The plot revolves around the dead leader (Oralene played by Donna Migliaccio) of the local singing group The Silver Belles trying to coordinate one final Christmas pageant in ghostly form (like Patrick Swayze in Ghost). I had my doubts about this concept, and worried it would get too spooky spiritual, but the writing stayed light and avoided any trappings of explaining her spiritual presence, and ultimately was quite nice. It also helped to compliment the complexity of the setting, which can be a character in and of itself. Allyson Currin, Matt Conner and Stephen Gregory Smith do a great job of showing the complexity of characters in East Tennessee. That does also bring with it some profanity that parents should be aware of. It’s not often, and it is culturally accurate, but it is there.
I loved the music created for this show. They do an interesting thing whereby they use a lot of familiar melodies and put their words to them that immediately makes you feel more at home.
The performances in this show were all good, but two were of particular note. I’m speaking of Dan Manning as Earl, and Nova Y. Payton as Gloria. Manning breaks your heart in his portrayal of a man that is bereft and lost without his wife to help guide him through life. Nova shows great range from her previous parts and of course showcases her wonderful voice, including a wonderful moment in the finale that only DC theater fans of Ms. Payton will truly appreciate.
The only big problem I had was with the age of the characters. I understand people of different ages interact but some of the age difference felt a little odd. I wouldn’t have expected a character like Gloria to be a part of a group like the Silver Belles. It didn’t really seem to effect much, but it did pull me out of the story at some points.
RJ Liked: The performances were really great.
RJ Didn’t Like: That Silver Belles is so short.
Silver Belles is playing at Signature Theatre through December 31st. Click here for more information and tickets.
(We received complimentary media tickets for this production, all opinions are our own.)