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Red-Hot Honky Tonk

The Red Cane Theatre kicks off the fall season
Elise Newell, Heather Wood, Amanda Lawrence, Emlyn Oleson and Lizz Torrecillas of the Phoinix Players. Photo courtesy Phoinix Theatre.
Elise Newell, Heather Wood, Amanda Lawrence, Emlyn Oleson and Lizz Torrecillas of the Phoinix Players. Photo courtesy Phoinix Theatre.

A pair of city slickers arrives in a podunk town. They’ve come to close the local saloon, which is financially strapped. The businessmen’s trip is something of a lark; though their mission is clandestine and cutthroat, they find the saloon, and the people in it, quaint and charming. One of the businessmen starts to fall for the saloon’s proprietress, a gorgeous, lovelorn woman with a stubborn streak. Drama ensues, and the whiskey flows. Fights erupt. Hearts collide.

It’s a beloved tale, oft told, and such is the backdrop for The New Honky Tonk, a song-and-dance musical currently running at Red Cane Theatre. Written and directed by Red Cane’s own Mary Huls, Honky Tonk is an updated and countrified re-telling of an age-old rom-com (think The Shop Around the Corner meets The Philadelphia Story, with a lot of Johnny Guitar thrown in for kicks). It’s a crowd pleaser — energetic, sexy and sprinkled with familiar songs (including a hilarious send-up of “It’s Hard to Be Humble” and Joey + Rory’s “Cheater, Cheater.”)

Red Cane’s Phoinix Players, just returned from performing in Ireland, are celebrating something of a homecoming, and this show is right in their wheelhouse, full of raucous fight scenes, lovesick (and/or drunken) solos and extravagant dance routines. The troupe continues to evolve, and Huls has honed this particular script to each performer’s strength. Everyone shines. Particularly strong on the night I attended were Richard Deyhle as bad guy Bart, and Amanda and Austin Lawrence as the star-crossed lovers, Susie Sunshine and Brent Everwood. Elise Newell, always good, excels as the vampy vixen Karla.

Honky Tonk is exactly the sort of show Red Cane does best: It’s funny, snarky, zippy and upbeat, with one foot in old-school Broadway and one foot in the here and now. The production isn’t perfect, of course; acoustics — at times voices get drowned by the recorded music — continue to present an issue. This could be a structural problem more than anything else, and the company might want to consider headset microphones, or some form of amplification.

This, however, is a minor concern. Honky Tonk, a well-written and muscularly performed show, exhibits the effusive energy and organic flow that audiences have come to expect and enjoy from the Phoinix Players.

The New Honky Tonk runs 6 pm Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from now through Oct. 26 at The Red Cane Theatre, 1077 Chambers St.; $14-$18 (drink and meal orders are extra).