| The American Heartland Theatre located inside Crown Center last production this season is the Kansas City premiere of a joyous interactive musical in which the audience plays three games for cash prizes with unique punch-out cards tucked inside the program booklet.
The play takes place on a stormy night at the VFW Hall in fictional Hamerin County, Missouri. We meet a trio of hard-core bingo-playing girlfriends with personality traits patterned after the popular characters of “The Golden Girls.”
The acerbic and imposing ringleader of the group is Vern (Debra Bluford from “The Dixie Swim Club”). Vern is known as the “Svengali” of bingo. She is a chain smoker who guards her cards and emotions like a lioness.
The promiscuous Honey (Jennifer Mays from “The Nerd,” “Moonlight and Magnolias” and “The Dixie Swim Club”) is the stereotypical dumb blonde. She is man crazy even though the ink is barely dry on her third divorce. In an effort to attract the opposite sex, she is always concerned about her hair and designer dress being just right.
The scatterbrained Patsy (Stasha Case in her AHT debut) accessorizes every game with superstitious items that include an assortment of rabbit’s feet and lucky charms.
The evening’s festivities are a birthday bash celebrating the 83rd anniversary of bingo. A wisecracking old lady named Minnie (Jeanne Averill from “Stories My Grandmother Told Me”) speaks reverently about traveling toy salesman Edwin S. Lowe, who popularized the game after discovering it in 1929 at a carnival in Georgia. Lowe’s framed photograph hangs prominently in the hall.
Minnie runs the game and is aided by hunky, bingo-calling lug Sam (Rick Williamson in his AHT debut).
A flashback runs throughout the play of an event that occurred 15 years ago. The jovial and good-natured Bernice (Averill) was once part of the gang, but she was banished from the group after Vern accused her of cheating. Honey and Patsy took Vern’s side and the ugliness of greed prevailed over their friendship.
A mysterious stranger named Alison (Emily Shackelford in her AHT debut) shows up with ulterior motives. She gets Vern to take her under her wings and show her the ropes. She is introduced as an aspiring New York City actress cast as an understudy for the role of Nurse Ratched in the “Off Off Off Broadway” musical version of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
The colorful cast will have you laughing with their spot-on comedic timing. They show a lot of spirit and enthusiasm for the material. They also display great voices in the song parodies with funny lyrics.
Bluford continues her streak of memorable roles. She is the cement that forms the plays strong foundation.
Averill’s entrances and exits are so smooth that you will be astonished that she plays dual roles. The wigs and her different vocal inflections really fool the audience.
Shackelford displays a booming voice for such a small frame as she belts out her songs.
The attractive Mays takes the cake for the show’s best musical number “Gentleman Caller.” This giddy show-stopping love ballad about Honey always falling in love with the wrong kind of man features the well-choreographed dance moves of Mays and Williamson.
The catchy opening tune, “Girls’ Night Out,” sets the tone for the mostly bouncy musical score that follows. Each number is performed with gusto by a band located above the stage comprised of Anthony Edwards, Jeremy Watson, Jacob Narverud and Kyle Brown.
Alex Perry’s bingo hall set has a few surprises up its sleeve and Cheryl Weaver’s costumes are as broad and colorful as the characters and the script. Shane Rowse deserves kudos for the lighting design that matches the particular mood of each song.
BINGO! The Winning Musical directed by Steven Eubank (“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”) runs through August 19. You can order tickets by telephone (816-842-9999) or online at ahtkc.com.
Other first-class amenities include free covered parking, a full-service bar, drinks permitted in the theatre, discounted tickets for students and seniors, plush tiered seating, pre-order intermission refreshments and dinner discounts at Crown Center restaurants.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"