The Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten play, The Hallelujah Girls, is in production at the Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre through May 21. This delightful southern comedy is warm and entertaining with a marvelous cast and excellent direction by Celia Frank.
The play opens in Spa-Dee-Dah, an abandoned church that becomes a day spa, in Eden Falls, Ga., and the action revolves around a group of friends. The play features an ensemble cast although Sugar Lee Tompkins is the central character. Played believably and convincingly by Jennifer Latka, Sugar Lee has just purchased the day spa and is seen encouraging the others to follow their dreams in the opening scene.
The loyal friends gather weekly at the day spa but life is not simple. Carlene has outlived three husbands and fears she will remain alone for the rest of her life. Olivia Gowan is captivating as Carlene Travis, demonstrating the right balance of humor, insecurity and passion. Toni Lang Philips portrays a sweet yet compelling Nita Mooney, who is coping with a very difficult adult son. Tracey Gallagher is hilarious as Mavis Flowers, a woman who has lost all interest in her marriage while Rebecca Williams is extremely entertaining as the zany Crystal Hart, who enjoys dressing up in holiday costumes and making up songs to Christmas carols.
As the story unfolds, Sugar Lee faces her own challenges when high society Bunny Sutherland shows up with plans to take the spa away. Perfectly portrayed by Karen Garrett, Bunny is wickedly evil and not afraid of her power. Bunny’s involvement complicates matters with Sugar Lee’s ex-boyfriend Bobby Dwayne Dillahunt, who arrives to construct the salon’s new sauna. Rounding out the cast is Allen Morton, who gives a colorful performance as Porter Padgett, a mama’s boy who becomes Carlene’s love interest.
Under the leadership of Celia Frank, the show moves quickly with comedy that is joyful yet not over the top. The church/spa set is beautifully designed and decorated by Allen Morton with scenic artwork by Rebecca Williams. The creative team also includes effective lighting and sound design by Bryan Frank, and colorful costumes by costume stylist Amy Tillotson. The stage manager is Catherine Espinosa, backstage crew is Zoe McMillan, and the light and sound techs are Betsy Totten Darnell and Gordon Frank.
Performances continue May 12, 13, 14, 19, 20 and 21. Curtain is at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
Tickets $20. For reservations, visit www.abettheatre.com or call (904) 249-7177.
ABET is located at 716 Ocean Blvd. in Atlantic Beach.
Photography by Susan Roche