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Review: Honky Tonk Laundry is country music show looking for country singers

HUDSON — The meatloaf on the country-style buffet line at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre's opening night of Honky Tonk Laundry was terrific.

The show? Not so much.

Not that it doesn't have possibilities. It features some of country's best songs — One Good Friend, Long Time Gone, Maybe Next Time He'll Think Before He Cheats, Queen of Denial — to name a few.

And it's not that the singers aren't good. Bridgette Karl, who plays lovesick Katie Lane Murphy, and Millicent Hunnicutt, who plays laundry owner Lana Mae Hopkins in this two-woman show, are terrific singers.

It's just that their voices and their styles are better suited to belting Broadway songs, not country music and its unique lilting, often husky, contralto or mezzo-soprano, heartache sound. Think Dolly Parton (My Potential New Boyfriend), Pam Tillis (Queen of Denial), The Dixie Chicks (Long Time Gone), Trisha Yearwood (Heaven, Heartache), Reba McEntire (Take It Back) or Terri Clark (I Want You to Smile), and you get the idea.

Not a soprano nor a belter in the bunch. And not a single northern or midwestern accent (not that there's anything wrong with a northern or midwestern accent). Director Matthew Belopavlovich should have brought in a speech coach to help his players get that southern twang for the dialogue as well as the lyrics. Or perhaps found some singers who could do Deep South and/or country girl naturally.

Neither Karl nor Hunnicutt has the sound, timbre, nor accent that makes country music what it is and why it is so beloved.

The music track isn't much help. It carries the melody, but doesn't have enough of that wailing fiddle, slide guitar or guitar twang that epitomizes country music. And neither the sound track, nor the singers, have that hesitant timing (think Willie Nelson) that so many great country music singers have. In short, country music doesn't lend itself to straight Broadway interpretation.

Though a few of the songs are familiar to casual country music listeners, like These Boots Are Made for Walkin' and Stand By Your Man, most are by more contemporary artists that not everyone in the audience recognized. The brief bow to traditional artists Loretta Lynn, the late Patsy Cline and Tammy Wynette are done as much as parody as they are as panegyric.

Honky Tonk Laundry has a slight story line familiar to country music — no-good, two-timing men and vengeful women. And even though Hunnicutt's Lana Mae gets off some down-home zingers, there is nary a fresh, new one among them ("... nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs"? Come on, now.) Karl does some energetic renditions of the newer songs, but they still don't have that country feel.

And one more gripe: The interplay with the audience seems forced and awkward.

Playwright Roger Bean has done some pretty good stuff — The Marvelous Wonderettes comes to mind. But Honky Tonk Laundry is unique and demands unique handling, which it doesn't get here.

That said, Todd Everest created a good-looking set, and light and sound designer Michael Sessa did a good job with both.

And, gee, that meatloaf was powerful good.

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