Shout out an ‘Amen’ to this fun ACT comedy

Those “Hallelujah Girls” over at Alpena Civic Theatre sure know how to make a person want to shout out a hearty “Amen” to a rollicking Southern comedy.

The feisty females Jackie Herbert, Rosina Phillips, Thelma Stevens, Donna Roussin, Mary Jo Skiba and Carol Rundell make reaching middle age both fun and funny. Five of the six play small-town gal pals in ACT’s newest production, which just happens to be called “Hallelujah Girls.” Rundell, the sixth among them, plays their hateful though equally humorous adversary determined to get her own way at any price.

Written by the popular writing team of Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, the show is jammed packed with great one-liners, all delivered with bounce and attitude by this group of solid actresses. Director Grace Morrison did a masterful job of casting.

None of the characters and each is distinct take themselves or their situations too seriously. As the show opens, they have just buried a close friend. It’s a life experience that makes them stop in their tracks and consider the importance of pursuing deferred dreams before it’s too late.

Thanks to the chief dreamer among them, Sugar Lee (Skiba), the path of self-examination leads to the opening of the Spa-Dee-Dah day spa in an abandoned church in their hometown of Eden, Ga. Much in the tradition of “Steel Magnolias,” the spa/salon becomes the gathering place for the women as they trade wisecracks, heartache, wisdom and gossip.

Carlene (Herbert) is the “Black Widow” of the group, having buried three husbands. Long-suffering Nita (Phillips), is addicted to Harlequin romance novels and gets caught up in running interference between her problematic son and his probation officer. Mavis (Stevens) is so stifled by her marriage that she ponders faking her own death to escape from it. And finally, Crystal (Roussin) has been touched in the head ever since she suffered a car accident. Her talent is writing lyrics year-round to classic Christmas carols and dressing up for every holiday in the calendar year.

Though it’s a woman’s world at the Spa-Dee-Dah, there also are a couple of guys who lend their own brand of hilarity. Bobby Dwayne, played with countrified sex appeal by Dennis Szatkowski, shows up at the door ready to make a bid on building Sugar Lee’s spa. Sugar Lee’s plans gets muddled, however, since Bobby Dwayne’s her ex-boyfriend from high school and she still holds a grudge. In true “Hallelujah Girl” fashion, be sure to check out Szatkowski’s legs whenever he’s on stage.

Once Carlene reluctantly agrees to jump back into the dating scene, the object of her affection turns out to Porter Padgett, well played by Chip Lavely. The aging Porter works for the post office and still lives at home with his mother, which could be a bit of a complication for Carlene.

Costumes, designed by Marilyn Kettler, are topnotch as always at ACT. The best ones have to be those donned by Roussin’s character. With her character’s penchant for holidays, every time Roussin shows up on stage representing another holiday, the costumes seem to get sillier.

The set, which as first starts out as the shuttered old church filled with furniture draped in large sheets, ultimately could pass for a pretty decent salon. It’s got a glamorous phone, manicurist’s table and shelves well-stocked with beauty products. Besides her obvious finesse with directing the show, Morrison also designed the set.

Scene changes between acts last a few moments, but even that’s been spiced up with some appropriate music filtered in to add to the levity. Kudos to Jim Phillips and Scott Edgar for light and sound design, and to Jackie Grulke as stage manager and props mistress, who remains on the ball between the scene changing, making sure the proper holiday decorates get hung.

Other key production team members include Donna Mullen as assistant director, and Bill Herbert and Bill Morrison on set construction.

Collectively, the six women and two men featured in the “Hallelujah Girls” seem to have great chemistry together with no one particular character stealing the scenes. Everyone of them makes seeing this latest ACT production a surefire reason for shouting “Amen” at the end of the evening or at least giving them all a standing ovation like they earned on opening night.

Remaining performances are this week, Jan. 17-20. For reservations, call the box office at 354-3624.