Honky Tonk Angels The three women who populate Ted Swindley's surprisingly mediocre Honky Tonk Angels have a dream. Angela, Darlene and Sue Ellen all want to be country singers. Stuck in individual ruts, they're desperate to "fly away" to Nashville, the Hollywood of country music. Watched over by their guardian angels, the three meet on the Greyhound bus trip and decide to form a trio. Without so much as breaking a sweat, they land a job on their first try. Angels is a "jukebox musical," a compilation of songs -- here, mostly country -- strung loosely together into a show. The skill lies in the weaving. Swindley, founding artistic director of Stages and creator of Angels, knows all about jukebox musicals, having created one of the most enduring, profitable ones, AlwaysPatsy Cline. Unfortunately, lightning hasn't stuck twice. Angels is strictly second-hand goods. There's no conflict, no roadblocks to the women's success, no compromises to force them down unfamiliar paths. What makes this low-rent show worth the trouble are the three performers, who use their entire arsenal of stage tricks to keep this jalopy of a show constantly moving. Susan Shofner (Angela) is the comedic Sophie Tucker of the group, the mama who's the glue that holds them all together. In Act II, the sleazy lounge act, Shofner stops the show with "Harper Valley PTA," jiggling across the stage in platform wedgies, animal print mini, padded bosom and stovepipe hairdo. The lovely-voiced Deanna Julian (Darlene), a pig-tailed, bib-overalled "sweet young thang" who could have sashayed straight out of the Dukes of Hazzard remake, gives "Ode to Billy Joe" a fragrant, romantic flavor. And Brooke Wilson (Sue Ellen) gives her material more oomph than it gives her. She manages to make "These Boots Are Made For Walking" (one example of the second-rate songs used for this revue) really sound good -- and hot. With Honky Tonk Angels, Swindley has taken the easy road, employing guardian angels in place of drama, taking the sex and heat out of the story, and making it palatable for children of all ages. It'll run for years. Through October 16. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0123.
The Ladies of the Camellias Some theater groupies are into backstage historical lore and gossip, and for them, Lillian Garrett-Groag's bouffant "divertissement" about the clash of theater's ultimate divas (France's Sarah Bernhardt and Italy's Eleonora Duse) will be as tasty as a shot of chilled Stoli accompanied by a heaping tablespoon of Beluga. For other theatergoers, The Ladies of the Camellias may call to mind rubbing alcohol and fish eggs. It's an acquired taste, if a classic one -- egomaniacal actors and the twin subtexts of art vs. entertainment and celebrity vs. talent have been debated since before Aristotle. They just don't make actors anymore like these two divas from a century ago: Bernhardt (Barbara Lasater in ultra-grande-dame mode) travels with a pet cheetah and an alligator and sleeps in a coffin; Duse (a sleek and stylish Melissa Winter) keeps a portrait of snake-headed Medusa above her bed. In the days before directors were the power behind the footlights, these ladies -- who were not only actors but also managers and producers -- replaced authors' lines, changed character motivation and wore costumes from the House of Worth even when playing a down-on-her-luck courtesan. Groag's comedy is based on the fact that in 1897, international stars Bernhardt and Duse actually acted in different versions of the same play -- Dumas's classic The Lady of the Camellias -- in the same Parisian theater during the same week. Their rivalry must have been heaven. This production would be heavenly too if the cheesy accents were dropped so the script's subtleties could shine more brightly, and if a trifle more oomph were inserted into the production's staging to keep this fine soufflé from nearly falling. The cast is game, however, and this once-in-a-lifetime interlude in theater history is lovingly, comically brought to life. Through October 1. Country Playhouse, 12802 Queensbury, 713-467-4497.