While traditional productions of “A Christmas Carol” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” abound this holiday season, Prince George’s Little Theatre has gift-wrapped something new for audiences.
Opening Friday and running through Dec. 23, the theater company presents “The Hallelujah Girls,” a story about the power of friendship.
“During the holidays, we have our family weekends, but we also have our girlfriend weekends,” says actress Barbara Webber. “[This show] is like coming to see your girlfriends. What better holiday gift than that?”
A Southern comedy, “The Hallelujah Girls,” follows a group of five female friends — Sugar Lee Thompkins (Edye Smith), Carlen Travis (Kathryn Huston), Mavis Flowers (Linda Smith), Nita Mooney (Julia Frank) and Crystal Hart (Tia Rountree) — in Eden Falls, Ga., who, shaken by the death of a close friend, decide to spice up their lives. The action takes place on six holidays in an abandoned church turned day spa called “Spa-Dee-Dah.”
The show is directed by Estelle Miller, who’s been directing in the metro area for 46 years.
“I think I was born with a theater ticket in my hand,” Miller says.
Miller adds she fears the theater culture in the country is deteriorating and she hopes to keep it intact by exposing new and younger audiences.
“I’m afraid the theater culture, except for big Broadway productions, will die in our country,” Miller says. “I want us all to understand that ... if we let our theater culture die, we lose a part of ourselves.”
Miller hopes staging newer plays like “The Hallelujah Girls,” written in 2010, will broaden the traditional theater audience.
But it wasn’t just the desire to inspire a new generation of theater-goers that drew Miller to “The Hallelujah Girls.” It was the show’s central characters.
“I applaud strong female characters,” Miller says. “I wanted to portray [these] as real relationships, not caricatures.”
For “The Hallelujah Girls” women, the relationships their characters share on stage mirror those they share with friends in their own lives.
“You’ll see all of your friends on stage,” says Webber, who plays Bunny Sutherland, Sugar Lee’s archnemesis. “It’s like coming to see your girlfriends.”
“People will identify with us,” Huston adds. “I think everyone can probably relate to a little bit of all of us ... “
Linda Smith draws comparisons between “The Hallelujah Girls” and another well-known Southern comedy, “Steel Magnolias.”
“It’s the same kind of play,” Smith says. “[Mavis] is kind of like Weezer in “Steel Magnolias.” ... Her first line is, ‘I’m madder than a mule with a bee up its butt,’ which kind of sets her character.”
Everyone in the audience may not have a friend quite as crass as Mavis, but Smith says audiences will undoubtedly see a little bit of their own friends in her character.
“You certainly hear your friends make the same kind of comments,” Smith says.
There’s something else about “The Hallelujah Girls” that drew Miller and her cast to the show’s characters — their age.
“The draw for me was the age requirements,” Huston says. “We find when we’re over 50, there aren’t that many productions ... finding 50-plus roles are few and far between.”
“It talks about women of a certain age that think it’s OK to just be OK,” Miller says. “And that change in their lives, a death of a friend says to them ... ‘I don’t want to just be OK.”
“The Hallelujah Girls” of Prince George’s Little Theatre have developed bonds with one another off stage, too.
“Part of the draw in community theater is the relationships,” Smith says.
“You’re interacting together, working with each other, building with each other. That’s part of what draws you in community theater; the relationships and the friendships that you build.”