By MARILYN JOZWIK
If you thought the Christmas pageant depicted in “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” was over the top, wait until you see the one in Sunset Playhouse’s “Christmas Belles.” Think of “Christmas Belles” as the adult version of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” with a sackful of fun. If you’re looking for some laughs this holiday season, this show delivers in bunches.
From a tipsy version of the Christmas Story to an Elvis sighting, the pageant in Fayro, Texas, is one for the ages. But the lead-up to it is full of surprises and humor as the Futrelle sisters gather for one of the most unusual unplanned reunions you’ll ever see. In the hours before the pageant you’ll see them as far apart as the state of Texas and then finding just how much they need each other.
Honey Raye Futrelle, the town floozy, has taken over Tabernacle of the Lamb Church’s Christmas pageant from Miss Geneva, who directed the show for 27 years. Honey Raye has a Vegas production in mind for the show, complete with a guest appearance by a fourth wise man (a local celebrity who will be bringing her butternut squash lasagna for her gift), as well as a part for an Elvis impersonator. It’s sure to be the talk of the very small town for years, but, when things go very wrong and secrets are revealed before the show even starts, the play careens hilariously out of control.
The strength of the show, directed by Becky Spice, is its strong, well-defined characterizations by Sunset’s choices for the Futrelle sisters: Tamara Martinsek as Honey Raye; Heather Reynolds as Twink; and Diane Gard as Frankie. Twink has been incarcerated after setting a fire to avenge her husband’s cheating, but the sheriff is allowing her to see her sister’s pageant. Frankie, along with husband Dub, is expecting twins any minute, a late life second family as they have a grown daughter, Gina Jo (Nicole Gross), who is being romantically pursued by the church pastor, Justin (Keith R. Smith). Frankie and Gina Jo also come to support Honey Raye’s directorial efforts.
There are such fun folk in this show, and the comedy is almost non-stop. You meet Frankie’s husband (Paul Pfannenstiel), who is playing Santa at the town’s big department store for some extra cash, giving lots of opportunities for humor when he is dealing with a (ho-ho-ho) kidney stone – scenes which Pfannenstiel milks wonderfully. The pastor plays his reindeer helper. Then there’s the 10-gallon hat-wearing town sheriff (Parker Cristan), who has a soft spot for inmate Twink. Parker gives his bombastic sheriff a sort of Barney Fife likeability, while really letting it all out for his Elvis bit.
Nearly every scene ends with a zinger. And this cast knows how to deliver a zinger.
Martinsek as the dramatic Honey Raye, who wants to name her big-production Christmas pageant “Bethlehem Lalapalooza,” seems to be at the center of every scene with her big red hair, her thigh-high, leopard print boots and her big Southern personality. When she vents her anger by saying, “I am so furious I could spit nails,” it sounds like something she’s said time and time again. Martinsek is just a joy to watch.
Reynolds and Gard complete the sister act to perfection. The three are in sync with one another and the whole cast. Gross’s Gina Jo is just so sweet, while Cheryl Roloff as Rhonda Lynn, who keeps everyone fed in the church kitchen during play rehearsals, fits in nicely. Beverly Sargeant gives Miss Geneva a no-nonsense attitude as she provides a steady hand through the pageant’s shenanigans.
There are several smaller roles that have big moments in the show that get big laughs, including Joyce Sponcia, playing Patsy, the nosy, intolerant church benefactor. Sponcia is hilarious as she delivers an unconventional Christmas story, while Susan Zuern as Ozella makes the most of her unique solo in the pageant while playing the ukulele. Jacob Cesar as Raynerd, who insists on playing his role in the Christmas pageant with a Batman backpack, is convincing with his oft-proclaimed, “I just love Christmas,” and then saves the pageant with his touching sincerity.
A concluding singalong at the church pageant – and in the auditorium — puts a cherry on this delicious holiday production.
Who: Sunset Playhouse
What: “Christmas Belles”
When: Through Dec. 23
Where: 800 Elm Grove Road, Elm Grove
Tickets/Info: staging.sunsetplayhouse.flywheelsites.com; 262-782-4430