by Ute Von Der Heyden
Reprinted from the Lansing City Pulse, Published May 11, 2011
From left, Linda Granger, LeAnn Dethlefsen, Carol Ferris (seated) and Janet Anderson are Starlight Dinner Theatre's "The Hallelujah Girls."
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That operating principle seems to fit Starlight Dinner Theatre impresario Linda Granger. As has been said before in these pages, she has a firm direction for her theater, she knows her audience and she knows how to please them. Having fun is at the heart of the matter.
In the current production of “The Hallelujah Girls,” she combines her M.O. with that of the playwrights, collectively known as Jones Hope Wooten. They are the widely produced Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, whose specialty is cranking out mostly “Southern comedies,” filled with implausible situations, wacky characters and irreverent one-liners.
The same is true of “Hallelujah Girls,” the fourth Jones Hope Wooten play Starlight has produced — Granger co-directed this play with Mark Cosgrove.
In “Hallelujah Girls,” five middle-aged women are inspired to change their lives by the sudden death of a friend who never realized her one dream of losing weight. Time is precious and “putting off happiness” is no longer an option.
The main catalyst for change, however, is their very much alive friend Sugar Lee who, fulfilling her dream of owning a business, buys an abandoned church and turns it into a day spa, the Spa-Dee-Dah. There the women’s new adventures and eventual successes are played out.
Starring as Sugar Lee is LeAnn Dethlefsen, a local actress of experience and talent, who makes her portrayal of the central character an interesting combination of determination and vulnerability.
Beautiful and svelte, Dethlefsen is in charge of this show, even occasionally smoothing out slow uptakes or fluffed lines by fellow actors on stage.
One of the script’s unusual appeals is that in addition to Sugar Lee, it has five other character roles written for women in their 50s and 60s. Emotionally, all female cast members seem to appreciate that rare opportunity, and make the most of it. While acting abilities vary, they work well together to tell their individual stories while staying true to the central theme of the play.
Cast members include Jan Anderson as the daffy Crystal, with a special knack for celebrating holidays; Carol Ferris as the hapless Nita; Granger as “black widow” Carlene; and Jan Ross as Mavis, whose marriage needs a jump (literally). Susan DeRosa plays Bunny, the evil spoiler of the other women’s dreams.
The two male cast members are Charlie Martin as Bobby, Sugar Lee’s love interest, and Rick Dethlefsen as Porter Padgett, would-be suitor to Carlene.
Of the women, Ferris is an audience favorite. As Nita, who's obsessed with romance novels and the mother of a no-good, manipulative, 27-year-old son still living at home (perhaps some mothers in the audience could identify), she delivers her lines with natural ease and deadpan assurance.
Rick Dethlefsen, one of the finest dramatic actors in local community theater, here takes on the cameo role of “vintage cry baby” Padgett with broad comic abandon. His first appearance on stage provided welcome over-the-top energy and got spontaneous applause.
It’s clear that a lot of blood, sweat and heart by everyone involved with this production created the delightful Spa-Dee-Dah set, with its myriad of spot-on properties.
Ingenious, colorful costumes and perfectly chosen Elvis Presley songs like “Follow That Dream” and “Hard-Headed Woman” played during scene changes all combined to help celebrate Starlight's "Hallelujah Girls."
‘The Hallelujah Girls'
Starlight Dinner Theatre Waverly East Intermediate School, 3131 W. Michigan Ave., Lansing. 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, through May 14.
Dinner begins at 6:30 p.m. Reservations are required for both dinner and show with prices as follows: $30 adults; $25 seniors and students under 22; $20 children under 12 Show-only pricing: $15 adults; $10 for children under 12 (517) 243-6040