Posted by

Allen Adams Allen Adams
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

edge staff writer


‘Honky Tonk Laundry’ good clean fun

Rate this item
(7 votes)
‘Honky Tonk Laundry’ good clean fun (photo courtesy PTC/© magnus stark, 2019)

BANGOR – Songs and suds are spinning together into a foot-stomping good time at the Bangor Opera House.

Penobscot Theatre Company’s latest production is “Honky Tonk Laundry,” a jukebox musical written by Roger Bean (author of “The Marvelous Wonderettes” and many others) and arranged by Jon Newton. The show – directed and choreographed by Dominick Varney with musical direction by Phil Burns – runs through February 24.

It’s the story of two women brought together by fate at a small-town laundromat, an unlikely pairing whose worlds become bound together through the power of dirty laundry – both figurative and literal. Through a collection of some of country music’s most beloved songs, the two work their way through their issues of love and loss as they seek ways to undo the regrets of the past.

Lana Mae Hopkins (Heather Astbury-Libby) is the owner and proprietor of the Wish-Washy Washateria, an establishment devoted to granting your every washing wish. She could use some help around the place – her latest hire has proven to be less than reliable, while her husband Earl is always too busy, either with his part-time plumbing or seeing to his ailing mother.

So when Katie Lane Murphy (Laura Hodos) turns up – a woman with a suspiciously stained blouse and a relationship on the rocks – Lana Mae decides to take a chance and hires the new girl.

It isn’t long before the pair become fast friends, sharing their hopes and fears. Both women are struggling with the ups and downs of love, wondering if they’re giving too much of themselves without getting enough back. And when Katie Lane discovers that Lana Mae once harbored dreams of going to Nashville and becoming a singer, well … the decision is made that if she can’t go to the stage, then they’ll have to bring the stage to her.

And so, one night, the Wishy-Washy Washateria becomes the Honky Tonk Laundry, the rootin’ tootin’ boot-scootin-est laundromat you’ve ever seen.

Interspersed throughout is a selection of some 20-plus classic songs plucked from the country canon, beloved tunes that will set fingers to snapping, toes to tapping and – if the show I attended is any indication – a whole lot of singing along.

Odds are, if you’re going to a show with a title like “Honky Tonk Laundry,” your only expectation should be to have a good time. This isn’t a piece that puts on airs. It is simple and fun, an evening of country-fried comfort food. There’s an easy joy to this show that is engaging and infectious, filling the house with an undeniable energy. In the chill of winter, that’s a welcome experience.

Director Varney has done a great job in terms of staging, creating something that is dynamic and kinetic despite having just two actors to work with. The usage of space is thorough and thoughtful, with some fun physical comedy and a handful of fun dance moments. And there are moments of emotional resonance as well, mined from the relatively thin narrative.

Obviously, when you’re talking about a two-hander like this one, you better nail the casting. It’s just these two women on the stage for over two hours, singing and dancing and joking. There’s nowhere to hide – you’ve got to be on from the moment you hit the stage and stay there until the final bows. Maintaining that sort of energy is hard work, though you’d never know it from watching this show.

Heather Astbuty-Libby is as brassily charismatic as they come, a force of nature both in terms of comedic physicality and vocal performance. She fills the Opera House space like few other performers; she’s got a big voice, yes, but just her presence is, well … present. A role like this is a perfect fit for her, and one that no one else around here could play.

You might remember Laura Hodos from her turn in PTC’s production of “Always … Patsy Cline” a few years back, but what you’ll see this time around is something else entirely. There’s a goofball sensibility to Hodos here, a full-scale commitment to broad expression and slapstick physicality that is a lot of fun to watch. Oh, and she’s got a hell of a voice too.

As for the two of them together? They’re a delight, a great on-stage team. Their timing is nicely synchronized and their voices blend beautifully – all in all, a first-rate pairing.

Yeah, the music is great. Music director Phil Burns has put together a hell of a band: Phil Kell on guitar, Chris Poulin on rhythm guitar, Gaylen Smith on bass, Tom Libby on drums and Burns himself on keys. It’s a tight group that really provides a sonic foundation; all musicals need a good band, but with just two actors, their presence is especially important.

On the production side of things, the highlight for me was definitely the washer/dryer banks that lighting designer Scout Hough turned into a full-on rock show experience, a multicolor delight made all the more enjoyable by the functionality of said washers and dryers. Tricia Hobbs turned in her usual impressive scenic design – the choice to place the band above the action instead of in the traditional pit was particularly bold (and very effective). Costume designer Jimmy Johansmeyer’s work shines brightly – particularly in the second act – while Sean McGinley’s sound and Meredith Perry’s props are as effective as always.

“Honky Tonk Laundry” doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is: a show devoted to making sure its audience has a great time. And there’s little question that this particular production does exactly that. If you’re in the mood for some good, clean fun here in the cold of February, then this show is for you.

Last modified on Saturday, 09 February 2019 11:23


The Maine Edge. All rights reserved. Privacy policy. Terms & Conditions.

Website CMS and Development by Links Online Marketing, LLC, Bangor Maine