REVIEW: Meadow Brook Theatre’s ‘Honk Tonk Angels’ Will Restore Your Faith in the Power of Dreaming Big

In 2021, Meadow Brook Theatre (MBT) premiered FANCY, a Country Jukebox Musical. The following year they doubled down with A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline. And in 2023, MBT proves that good things come in threes with the divinely inspirational Honky Tonk Angels, running through May 21, 2023, on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester Hills, Michigan.

Angela (Stacy White) shows what housewives from Texas are made of. Photo credit: Sean Carter Photography

Written by Ted Swindley, this country jukebox musical starts off strong from the very first note of the classic “I’ll Fly Away.” There’s no denying that each actress has the chops to sing solos, but there’s just something about their three-part harmony that gives you goosebumps.

The band also got toes tapping and the crowd clapping before the curtain rose with “Soldier’s Joy.” For those who aren’t familiar, the ‘honkey-tonk’ sound generally has a full rhythm section playing a two-beat rhythm with a crisp backbeat. Steel guitar and fiddle are the dominant instruments. In addition to musical direction, Zachary Ryan directs the band and plays the keyboard. The rest of the band includes Sig Hepler (guitar), Louis Jones III (drums), Michael McGillivray (fiddle), Jackson Stone (bass), and Andrew Toering (pedal steel guitar). As always, it’s a joy when they can be seen in their element jamming on stage.

Set in the 1990s, Honky Tonk Angels centers on three lovely ladies who start out in different places before plucking up the courage to take their talent and dreams to Nashville, Tennessee. They may all come from different backgrounds and experiences, but each carries the same dream deep within them to see if they were made for more. As they tell their loved ones, “I hope you’ll understand. It’s time for me to fly.”

Sue Ellen (Jacqueline Petroccia) may be blonde, but she’s no dummy. Photo credit: Sean Carter Photography

Through well-loved country songs, we get a glimpse into each character’s situation. For Angela (Stacy White), the housewife and ‘Queen of the Double-wide’ from Texas, it’s “Stand by Your Man.” Darlene (Lannie Rubio, in her MBT debut), the youngest and most naïve from the Mississippi Delta, it’s a “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” And then there’s Sue Ellen (Jacqueline Petroccia), who is from Los Angeles by way of some backwater Texas town singing her career gal anthem, “9 to 5.” It’s fantastic how these famous songs take on fresh meaning in the context of each woman’s personal journey. Case in point, “I Will Always Love You.” Dolly Parton may have written this song and Whitney Houston has taken it to the top of the Billboard charts but listening to these three women blend the notes and send them soaring out into the room is quite an experience. As if you’re hearing the song for the first time.

She may be from a small town, but Darlene (Lannie Rubio) has big-city dreams. Photo credit: Sean Carter Photography

Honky Tonk Angels is packed with energy and audience participation. Right before the end of the first act, the women meet on the bus bound for Nashville and treat the audience to amazing arrangements of “Paradise Road,” “Amazing Grace/Calling All Angels,” “Time for Me to Fly/I’ll Fly Away and even had us join them on “Delta Dawn.” So much fun was being had on stage and off that time flew by.

A fun bit before the second act started was a musical interlude featuring the Extras (Mary Magyari and Anthony Vettraino) singing the tongue-in-cheek song made popular by the group Confederate Railroad, “Trashy Women.”

The second act finds the women in Honky Tonk Heaven (a bar) where the walls are lined with a who’s who of country music royalty – June and Johnny, Dolly, Loretta, Hank (Sr. and Jr.), Tammy, and Glen. The women have found their footing as a group complete with new clothes, new attitudes, and heads full of hairspray.

There were three HIGHlights of the second act. The first was Angela’s “Harper Valley PTA.” Sporting an epic bouffant, White gave an entertaining performance reminiscent of something the legendary Carol Burnett might have done on her variety show. Next, Darlene’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night” was performed in gravity-defying shoes. At first, I thought it was going to be another comedic routine, but then as the song progressed, Rubio gave such a powerful vocal performance, that it felt like the roof might blow off. And finally, Sue Ellen also gave an impressive turn during “Cornell Crawford” by performing the entire song on roller skates!

L to R: Angela (Stacy White), Darlene (Lannie Rubio), and Sue Ellen (Jacqueline Petroccia) live out their dreams in Meadow Brook Theatre’s production of ‘Honky Tonk Angels.’

The songs in Honky Tonk Angels aren’t meant to be simply sung, but rather to be deeply felt in a way only time and experience can provide. There’s no autotune or backing tracks. Just deeply raw and soul-stirring talent. The nuance that it takes to not only sing these songs but express them as well, is nothing short of amazing.

We’re all familiar with the stereotypes that come with this type of music and the folks that listen to it. And while there are some hillbilly-type references, thankfully, the play doesn’t rely heavily on them too much. Rather they are sprinkled here and there at appropriate moments; leaving the audience the opportunity to fully embrace the wealth of wit, warmth, and flair Petroccia, Rubio, and White bring to their roles.   

It is evident Director Travis W. Walter had a blast with the material. I also tip my hat to Debbie Williams (Choreography), Christa Tausney (Scenic Design), Leslie Littell (Costume Design), Scott Ross (Lighting Design), and Mike Duncan (Sound Design). Lannie Rubio is also the dance captain, while Brittanie Nichole Sicker is the stage manager and Lee Cleaveland is the assistant stage manager.

It was no surprise there was a standing ovation at the end because you could tell throughout the show that the audience ate up every single performance. I overheard one woman say as she left, “I could watch this every day.” And I absolutely agree. To paraphrase a well-known movie quote, “Is this heaven? No. It’s Honky Tonk Angels.” Welcome to heaven on earth.

This performance runs approximately two hours with a 15-minute intermission.

MBT has rated this show for Middle School age and up.  

Tickets range from $37 to $46 and are available by calling the Meadow Brook Theatre box office at 248-377-3300 or going online at Student discounts are available at the box office. Groups of eight or more should call 248-370-3316 for group pricing.

About Sarah Hovis

Freelance wordsmith, arts appreciator, grammar geek, sports spectator, stationery snob, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at


  1. What a great show! I loved how my girlfriends and me found ourselves in different stories and just were impressed by the play. Highly recommending!

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