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Off-Broadway's "Good Ol' Girls" tugs at the heartstrings


NEW YORK, Feb 18 (UPI) — "Good Ol' Girls", a new musical revue, brings the joys and sorrows of life as it is lived by the women in the American South to Off-Broadway's Steinberg Center for Theater with a superlative cast of five women actors with plenty of stories to tell.

This intimate entertainment, playing the Steinberg's tiny Black Box Theater through April 11, has a book written by Paul Ferguson based on stories by Lee Smith and Jill McCorkle, two acclaimed Southern novelists, and a musical score consisting of 16 songs by Matraca Berg, a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and Marshall Chapman, a pioneer rock 'n roll musician and composer.

The show, which toured the South before coming to New York, is directed by Broadway's Randal Myler, and its cast is widely experienced in Broadway, Off-Broadway, and regional productions. The actors are accompanied by a band of four musicians under the direction of Karen Dryer who perform at the rear or the stage behind a scrim, but they occasionally accompany themselves quite proficiently on the guitar.

The women are varied in age, appearance, and personality. Teri Ralson is the motherly one. Lauren Kennedy is the ingénue. Sally is the open, vulnerable one, and Gina Stewart is the toughie. Liza Vann is the most inscrutable. All are true to the good ol' girl image of the big-hearted, know-their-place women of the Appalachian South, but their stories also illustrate what happens when they have the audacity to break the mold.

Their material literally ranges from the cradle to the grave, with one song that is descriptive of the pain of childbirth and another that tells of a beautician who lovingly applies cosmetics to her mother's corpse. There are plenty of songs about relationships with men – husbands and lovers both good and bad – that are loaded with happy memories as well as bitter remorse.

There is really no plot but the songs are strung together to provide a composite picture of a group of women who courageously proclaim "All I want Is Everything" in the show's anthem but readily admit in other story-telling ballads that they have often settled for less, even a lot less. This is alluded to by such songs titles as "Late Date With the Blues", "Down To My Last Guardian Angel," and "Bad Debt".

The other side of the coin, gleaming with sunny days and happy times, is reflected in songs titled "Happy Childhood", "Back When We Were Beautiful", and "Back in the Saddle". Behavioral problems are musically treated in "Lying To the Moon", Booze In Your Blood", and "Betty's Being' Bad", one of the most personal and amusing of the show's folksy songs.

Don't let the folksiness of "Good Ol' Girls" put you off. This is a show that is much more blue collar than redneck and purveys sentiments that audiences of any level of sophistication can appreciate and with which they can emphasize. Just don't expect lavish or attractive staging that usually comes with a New York production no matter how simple in concept.

Designer Timothy R. Mackabee's set is little more than a bare stage furnished with some old chairs and Brian Nason's lighting is unforgivably unflattering. The regionally flavored costumes created by stage and film designer Michael Bevins give "Good Ol' Girls", which looks like a touring show, whatever production values it can claim and are visually welcome.