HARRISONBURG, Va. (AP) — In the fictional town of Fayro, Texas, the competition is stiff when it comes to putting on the best church Christmas pageant.
And the prim Honey Rae Futrelle, played by Jean Fiske of the Off Broadway Players, is determined to make her church’s pageant the best.
Futrelle is a main character in the play “Christmas Belles,” a comedy directed by Terri Hoover about a Christmas pageant gone awry in Fayro. Several showings of the show written by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten at the Broadway Volunteer Fire Department’s social hall tonight were performed through Sunday.
The show, chock-full of glittery Christmas décor, Southern accents, funny one-liners and holiday mayhem, is all about how one small town finds the true meaning of Christmas. For Hoover, a Texas native, the third show she’s directed for the Off Broadway Players reminds her of Christmas in the country.
“It’s got that Texas flair, so it kind of feels like home,” Hoover said. “It’s a great combination of make you laugh, make you think. It’s primarily humor. It’s a great way to destress, a great way to start getting into the Christmas spirit with the holiday theme. I just personally think it’s the perfect way to kick off the holiday season.”
Frustration and hilarity ensue when Futrelle’s sister, Twink Futrelle, played by Tammy Cullers, is sent to the church on work-release just in time for the pageant while doing time for harassing an ex. Meanwhile, Futrelle’s other sister, Frankie Futrelle Dubberly finds a new best friend in the ever-peppy Rhonda Lynn Lampley, played by Susan Comfort, who unwittingly upstages the uptight Honey Rae Futrelle at every turn.
Lori Smilowitz, who plays Frankie Futrelle Dubberly, very pregnant with twins, said “Christmas Belles” is her first role with the Off Broadway Players, but she’s performed with the Valley Playhouse for several shows.
“I’ve been involved with theater in Harrisonburg for a while, and I auditioned for this show in 2020 and I just wanted to try new things. I learned that the drive to Broadway wasn’t as far as I thought it was,” Smilowitz said. “It’s warm and funny and everyone needs a laugh right now and again, it’s not that far away (from Harrisonburg.) This is going to be a fabulous show and it’s so nice to be doing live theater again.”
The foibles of the three sisters are intertwined with a lovable cast of characters including a jolly shepherd played by J.W. Fiske, Frankie’s husband Dub Dubberly, an ulcerative shopping mall Santa played by Eric Atkins, and daughter, Gina Jo “G.J.” Dubberly, played by Ava Grace Flory, who’s dating the sprightly church pastor Justin Waverly, played by Seth Simmers.
“My favorite thing about the show is it’s so joyful and funny, especially in a time right now where everyone can feel a bit overwhelmed by COVID, which is hopefully coming to an end, but I think that it will bring everyone a laugh for the holiday season,” Flory said.
When everything about the church Christmas pageant seems to have gone wrong, an unlikely character steps in to remind the troupe of the true meaning of Christmas. This sweet moment leaves the Futrelles’ pageant better than it started, Hoover said, likening the scene to Linus’ speech in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
“It’s a lot about second chances. It’s a lot about acceptance. I call it ‘the Linus moment,’” Hoover said. “We have that moment where all the insanity kind of stops and the most unlikely character just tells this beautiful little story and it almost brings a tear to your eye.”
The Off Broadway Players first returned to their temporary stage in the Broadway Volunteer Fire Department after the COVID-19 pandemic hiatus in July. The troupe, which previously performed at a nearby school, has a new performance space planned in the Oliver Art House building, which is at least a year away from being ready to use. The Off Broadway Players assembled the stage for “Christmas Belles” in 48 hours, Hoover said, complete with lighting and sound by Chris Runion.
“I think people are going to really enjoy it. There’s not a lot of Christmas shows happening right now, and there’s not a lot of theater happening right now. So the fact that we’re even here is fantastic and the fact that we can do something holiday themed is even better. We love our little community of Broadway,” Hoover said.