By Stephanie ottey
Everyone seems to boast a Christmas event of some sort this time of year, but only Salem Community Theater can brag about hosting “The Honky Tonk Angels Holiday Spectacular.”
The “Holiday Spectacular” is a sequel to “Honky Tonk Angels,” which Salem produced around this time last year. In the original show, Angela, Darlene and Sue Ellen were aspiring country singers who meet on a Greyhound bus headed to Tennessee.
Along the way, they became friends and, eventually, a trio called The Honky Tonk Angels. Though they parted ways at the end of that show, they’ve reunited in this sequel for a special holiday concert and also added a new member.
Like the nuns of “Nunsense” or the men of “Forever Plaid” the Honky Tonk Angels put on a show full of musical medleys, audience interaction and lighthearted banter. A creation of Ted Swindley, this particular “Honky Tonk” show features many classic Christmas songs and some rock and country tunes with a special holiday twist.
A new show brings a partly new cast, but audiences will recognize a few “Angels.”
Julie Benner returns as Angela and makes songs, even those about things as simple as applesauce cake, soulful and heartfelt. She demands attention — the show would not be the same without her.
Also returning to the “Angels” is Amanda Frost. Frost’s Sue Ellen is engaging and funny — it’s clear that Frost has spent time with the character before. She is relaxed and comfortable on stage, helping to maintain a cohesion in the cast.
Darlene is played by SCT regular Nicole Slaven this time around. Slaven, who recently showcased a knack for comedy in “A Little Murder Never Hurt Anybody,” now shares her musical talent. Her rendition of Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors” is one of the many high points of the show, and Slaven is brave to accompany herself on guitar as she sings. Vocally, this is the best performance she’s given yet — country suits her.
Brandy Johanntges, last seen in Salem in The Spotlight Players’ “Next to Normal,” is Charilee. Though, the “newest” member of the group, Johanntges makes Charilee a perfect fit with the other girls. She makes Act 1 sparkle with her Motown medley, and her bright vocal performance continues to stand out after.
The ladies are backed by a killer little band known as the “Bodacious Bobcats.” Led by Gary Kekel, the group consists of Stephen Ley, Dan Kalosky, D.J. Depanicis and Ed Koran. The “Bobcats” find a cozy groove and allow many classic songs to pop with energy.
Directors Gary and Cheryl Kekel have a well-rounded production on their hands. Carrie Mazzucco’s choreography is fun and appropriate, and Carolyn Saunders’s costumes (and wigs) are a treat.
“The Honky Tonk Angels Holiday Spectacular” runs through Dec. 22 at Salem Community Theater, 490 E. State St. For show times and ticket information, call 330-332-9688.