Laughs keep coming in ‘The Hallelujah Girls’

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KC Ross, left, and Kathy Cook star as Carlene Travis and Nita Mooney, respectively, in a scene from ‘The Hallelujah Girls,’ a Phoenix Stage Company production running through Dec. 4 at 686 River Ave., Naugatuck.

The audience never stopped laughing during the Phoenix Stage Company’s third production, “The Hallelujah Girls.”

The play was a delightful barrage of witty one-liners delivered by a group of talented middle-aged actresses.

After the death of a friend who never accomplished her dream to lose weight, Sugar Lee Thompkins fulfills her own dream by opening at day spa at an old church. During their weekly meetings at the spa, Sugar Lee encourages her friends to sort out their own lives.

“You can change your life. You can make you dreams come true,” she admonishes them.

After burying three husbands, Carlene Travis is ready to give up on love.

“Who would want to date the black widow?” she asks.

But Sugar Lee has other plans for her.

Another friend is stuck in a bad marriage and a third doesn’t have the backbone to deal with her dead-beat son.

Through Sugar Lee’s mediation, her friends start to get back on track. But can she deal with the emotional toll when her ex-fiancé shows up and her arch-rival is hell-bent on taking the spa away from her?

Over a series of holidays, the girls meet to gossip, commiserate and dream of a better future.

The six women and two men in the show hail from all over Connecticut and have many years of experience in productions at Torrington’s Warner Theater, the Thomaston Opera House and in Goshen, among others.

“There’s not a bad one in the bunch,” Wilcox said.

Wilcox decided to produce “The Hallelujah Girls” after meeting the author at a conference two years ago. She said they were looking for a play that would make use of the talented older actresses in the area.

In fact, there was so much talent that they decided to split the cast, with the roles of Carlene Travis, Crystal Hart and Porter Paget alternating between actresses each week.

Each actress took a different take on the character, so the performances are a little different each week, Wilcox said.
Not surprisingly, the audience was mostly middle-aged women.

Before the show, staff passed out “girls’ night out” gift bags for groups of four or more who attended together. The bags were filled with goodies donated by local businesses, including Mary Kay nail polish products.

“We were hoping to go along with the spa theme,” said Sharon Wilcox, one of three partners in the theater.

Ed Bassett, the show’s director and another partner in the theater, said the businesses were excited to help out with the show.

“Everyone wanted to be a part of it,” he said.

Bassett said the theatre has been a boon to the business community. The pizza restaurant next door, Bellissimo, stays open after the shows to serve hungry theater-goers.

“They help us. Everybody helps each other,” said Bedri Fazliu, owner of Bellissimo.

Agnes Dann, the third partner at the theater, said the shows are selling really well. The 75-seat theatre was sold out opening weekend.

Before becoming a theater in August, the space went through several incarnations. Most recently, the small store-front theater was a Fun Zone arcade, as evidenced by the purple, florescent-starred carpet.

For the first three productions, the Phoenix Stage Company has been borrowing chairs from the Naugatuck Teen Theatre and Connecticut Dance Theatre, but now they need to get their own.

To raise money for permanent seating, the Phoenix Stage Company will be holding a special performance Jan. 7 and 8 of “One Night with Fanny Brice.” They received the rights to the one-woman musical theater piece royalty-free to use as a fundraiser.

“The Hallelujah Girls” is running through Dec. 4 at Phoenix Stage Company, 686 River Ave., Naugatuck. For tickets, call (203) 632-8546 or visit www.brownpapertickets.com.