Good old girls can be found all over the world, but the ones in the latest Neuse Little Theater production are uniquely Southern.
“Good Ol’ Girls” deals with the mothers and grandmothers, wives and ex-wives, sisters and cousins who make up the fairer sex south of the Mason Dixon line. These women, these warrior philosophers, these world-class chefs, these homemakers and doctors, sinners and saints, they live and love with a force unlike anything else found in nature.
Based on the works of North Carolina’s Lee Smith and Jill McCorkle, “Good Ol’ Girls” will fill the NLT’s Hut with women we either know or have heard about in Johnston County, North Carolina or anywhere else sentences end with a twang. Through vignettes, the musical tells a few dozen stories of being a woman in the South. Director Ruth Mills, who has directed NLT productions for nearly 20 years, said the themes are universal, but the accent is distinct.
“It really is universal for women: you get beaten down, you get back up, and you shout your name loud,” Mills said. “Southern women have a reputation for being allowed to be beaten down, but when they rise up, they rise up with a vengeance, saying ‘I’m not going to take this anymore.’ At the heart and soul of the musical is the identity of being Southern and a woman.”
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Leanne Bernard, Nancy Gibbs, Theressa Rose, Teresa Shearin and Natasha Thompson each play several women in the show, telling stories and offering up monologues and songs about men, mothers or just getting by. “Good Ol’ Girls” is a musical, but it’s closer to a show at a honky tonk than some lavish Broadway production. To be honest, the latter wouldn’t be very Southern.
“It’s not the musical with the fancy costuming or huge choreographed numbers and the casts of thousands,” said Gibbs. “I was attracted to it because the writers are from here and the stories are so relateble to me as a Southern woman. They’re very much part of the fabric of our lives. They’re stories about motherhood and losing a parent, having a no-good man and finding an awesome man.”
Cast members talked about loving the music and think audiences will find themselves toe-tapping on the Hut’s wooden floors or wiping tears from their eyes. The only men appearing on stage for “Good Ol’ Girls” are four musicians in a backing band, sitting center-stage and playing everything from an electric guitar and upright piano to a porcelain jug.
“It’s fun, it’s pertinent, it’s rock n’ roll, country, blues and ballads, all of those things,” Mills said.
The show is stripped down to just the essential parts: a band, a simple set, the stories and songs. Besides the band, the set is only a giant map of North Carolina (audiences will find Johnston County and Smithfield easy to spot).
“It is stripped down, but the stories are also stripped down to bare emotion,” Rose said. “They’re short, to the point, but a loud sucker punch at the end.”
As much as anything, “Good Ol’ Girls” is a personality or perspective found only in the South. Bernard is a Pennsylvania native and offered a view of Southern women from both sides of the fence. As we all know, beware the “bless your heart,” for it is the kiss of death.
“Anywhere you go in the world you’ll find a certain attitude, but there’s something specific about the Southern attitude,” Bernard said. “They can be talking trash and just be so dang sweet about it.”
“They can tell you off and you don’t even realize it,” Shearin said.
“You can say the nastiest thing about somebody, but as long as you say ‘bless their heart,’ Jesus forgives you,” Rose explained.
Mills said Smith and McCorkle and the musical’s writer, Paul Ferguson will attend the Feb. 18 performance. A reception will follow.
“We’re all real excited about that,” Mills said.
“Good Ol’ Girls” will play at 8 p.m. Feb. 17-18, 3 p.m. Feb. 19 and 8 p.m. Feb. 24-25 at The Hut on Front Street in downtown Smithfield. Tickets are $15 in advance and $17 at the door. To reserve tickets, call 919-934-1873.