Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of The Secret Garden
Above all, Silver Belles offers a relaxing break from some of Signature's more intense musicals for audiences and creative staff alike. Director Eric Schaeffer is also preparing Signature's reimagining of Titanic, which opens in December, and composer Matt Conner's previous works include the feverish Nevermore and The Hollow. Here they can go straight for laughs and heart.
In the small town of Silva Ridge, Tennessee, the "Silver Belles" perform an annual original Christmas pageant to raise money for the local orphanage. However, Oralene (Migliaccio), the organizer and author, has died suddenly only four weeks before Christmas, throwing this year's pageant into turmoil.
Allyson Currin's book plays up the eccentricities of the characters, none of whom, it seems, can get along with the others. While Oralene tries to influence the proceedings from the next world, long-ago beauty queen Ruth Ann (Peggy Yates), much-married Gloria (Payton), and slightly odd businesswoman Berneice (Ilona Dulaski) attempt to use their individual talents in a common cause. (Baton twirling! Taxidermy! Christian devotional Jello molds!) Meanwhile, Bo Jack (Naomi Jacobson), mechanic and local radio personality, tries to pull Earl (Dan Manning), Oralene's husband and songwriting partner, out of his depression with the help of Oralene's last batch of apple-and-cherry-flavored moonshine.
Payton's clarion voice and Migliaccio's belt bring the power to the ensemble, assisted by Yates' sweetness, Dulaski's quirkiness, Jacobson's deadpan, and Manning's open emotion.
Conner, who also wrote the lyrics with Stephen Gregory Smith, lays on the twangy, country-flavored charm in his songs, which also incorporate pieces of traditional carols. Choreographer Karma Camp gets into the silly spirit of things on James Kronzer's homespun set, assisted by Kathleen Geldard's costumes, while pianist Jacob Kidder provides constant support throughout the 80-minute performance.