The Higher the Hair the Closer to Heaven II
by Barney Quick
The first thing to understand about a Coachlight Musicals production is that the hefty does of corn is deliberate. What Artistic Director / Writer Doug May, the administrative staff, and the cast offer is a chance to laugh because what’s being presented is simply funny. That kind of entertainment is at a premium in this postmodern world, where irony seems to reign.
The Higher the Hair the Closer to Heaven II–The Sequel follows the time-tested Coachlight formula for grins and guffaws. It comes pretty close to vaudeville, with just enough of a plot line to give the actors an opportunity to breathe some life into their characters.
The premise is that a hairdo emporium owner named Penny Merle (played as a wise mentor full of motherly patience by Jolie Mullin) has assembled the crew at her shop, the Beauty Barn, into a singing-and-dancing ensemble and taken it on the road. The warbling stylists have taken on a long-suffering manager, Berle Maggard. Berle is played somewhere between an aw-shucks demeanor and outright loopiness by Doug Leeper, who handles such roles in several Coachlight productions. He can even impart genuine tenderness and sincerity when the moment calls for it.
Berle is engaged to Patty Bline (played by Andrea Swift), but relations are often strained, as Patty is given to huffing fits at the slightest perceived transgression on Berle’s part. This constitutes the plot line. It’s just enough of a vehicle for this half-tribute, half-spoof of classic country songs to give the audience a story to follow.
The second most important thing to understand about a Coachlight show is that one must be prepared to be a good sport. Everyone is fair game for being plucked from the audience for some interactive fun. During the performance this reporter attended, a man was selected to sit at the edge of the stage and have “Nobody but a Fool” crooned to him. By the end of the next song, “Funny Face,” he was surrounded by all four of the Beauty Barn divas. He took it well, beaming and swaying as the ladies patted his head and fussed over him.
All seemed to be well between Berle and Patty at intermission time, but when the second act began, Patty was fuming and Berle was in the dark as to what his offence had been. The other singers tried to calm Patty down with various songs, but when Berle, during his Johnny Cash medley, sang “I Walk the Line” to a lady from the audience, Patty was once again shooting daggers from her eyes.
Puppets usually figure prominently into Coachlight productions, and Higher the Hair II is no exception. Patty consults Mama, a puppet with perhaps the biggest hair of all, during “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.”
There is a gospel segment in the second act. It includes a rousing harmony-laden ensemble treatment of “You Can’t Be A Beacon If Your Light Don’t Shine,” as well as Berle / Leeper in tent-revival attire belting out “Hotel Hallelujah.”
Each of the singers brings a unique approach to country, some going in more for spoof and some tending toward a straightforward rendering of the material. Marsha Placke as Pauletta Lynn reveals touches of her opera experience, going for a big delivery. Belle Lenius Craddock as Polly Darton generally handles the tunes rather demurely, so that it is a moment of laughter for the audience when she lets loose a growl on the line “There ain’t any sweetness in your heart” during “Paper Roses.”
Penny / Mullin beckoned this reporter to “put down whatever it is you’re writing about” and dance with her during “Stand by Your Man.” It went fairly well, and some microphone-sharing even ensued on the last refrain.
The show is full of classic country tunes, including “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels,” “Rocky Top,” and “I Fall To Pieces.” Everything is presented with equal parts fun and professionalism.
Higher the Hair II will be presented in October and on November 3. For more information, contact Coachlight Musical Theater at (800) 304-8588, or visit the theater at <www.coachlightmusicals.com>.