Red-Hot Honky Tonk

The Red Cane Theatre kicks off the fall season

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).

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