BWW Review: Take Your Wash to the Hudson and the HONKY TONK LAUNDRY
Remember The Marvelous Wonderettes and Life Could Be a Dream? Creator Roger Bean had two tremendous musical hits in these shows. The Marvelous Wonderettes featured four FBF, and Life... four guy pals. They both focused on living your dream to the fullest, and featured young teens aspiring to the max. Both had great background pop songs of the 50s, 60 and beyond. Wonderettes went beyond the teen years with two sequels Winter Wonderettes and Caps and Gowns, in which we saw the gals grow up and meet life's struggles head on. On the shelf since about 2005, Honky Tonk Laundry is Bean's two character musical a la Always Patsy Cline, where he took pop country music and let two ladies have their way with it. They become best friends in the process, compared to Thelma and Louise. Currently onstage at the Hudson in Hollywood, Honky Tonk Laundry is a big audience winner due to its dynamic stars Bets Malone and Misty Cotton, who sing and act the bejesus out of it. Some might call it overkill with anyone else, but these two uber talents keep the audience begging for more.
In Roger Bean musicals, the plot is slight and overshadowed by the fun musical numbers and silly dialogue. In Honky Tonk Laundry Lana Mae Hopkins (Malone) and Katie Lane Murphy (Cotton) have man trouble, and apart from folding laundry and complaining about their men, there's little else. With three or four characters, there's variety, but with two, even though Lana is an old-fashioned, take control type and Katie an ultra needy, high maintenance gal, the difference is not enough to make the story riveting for two hours. The movie Thelma and Louise, a bad comparison, had lots of cinematic action and...Brad Pitt. Here, you imagine.
Thank heavens for Act Two where the girls turn the Wishy Washy Washateria into a honky tonk performance space. Lana Mae had given up her dream to be a country music superstar, and now it's her turn to prove that she's still got the stuff. For Katie, it's a lerning experience, if she can only stop drinking and popping pills to calm her nerves. They put on a lively show - perhaps livewire crazy might describe it more accurately - that saves the overall show, but ... even here it's more like a country music review than a real book show. Again, it's not the fault of Malone or Cotton, who keep us consistently entertained, guided by director Bean's lightning pace. Malone has a natural way of making everything she says sound real, and when she sings, there's such heart and ... she blows the roof off the space. Cotton has an adorable comedic flair. She knows how to milk a laugh or two, and she, too, has a big belting voice that knows its way around a song. There's a fabulous tribute to Loretta Lynn via "You're Lookin' at Country", to Patsy Cline with "I Fall to Pieces" and to Tammy Wynette with "Stand by Your Man".
Bravo to Tom Buderwitz who has designed an old, small landmark laundry with the gigantic washing machines and dryers stage center and to Renetta Lloyd for her loud costumes, especially the red leather cowgirl matching outfits for the performance in Act II. Replete with fringe-trimmed boots and teeny, tiny cowboy hats they really draw attention.
The fact that Katie's boyfriend Danny and Lana Mae's husband Earl are not present onstage does not detract from the storyline. Think of Steel Magnolias, where the strength of all the women combined made the story ultimately engrossing, without their men present. But in that play, there's more than just two women carrying the ball. Pure and simple, Honky Tonk Laundry needs more characters which will add varietry and more color to the surroundings. Maybe put the hore Raylene into the ensemble? That would really stir things rightside up.
Nevertheless, who doesn't like to listen to two gals with southern accents dishing the dirt and gossiping about everyone in town? Lana Mae has a tongue that will not quit; she's a real spitfire. And of course, this rubs off on Katie to excess. If you're looking for great singing, and lots of full-out laughter, go to Honky Tonk Laundry. What's low on plot is certainly high on entertainment. Malone and Cotton are two of the best musical performers anywhere, anytime.
(photo credit: Michael Lamont)