‘Hallelujah Girls’ take aim at dreams

For some, churches stand as a symbol of people who get converted.

But, sweet Jesus, in the Actors Studio of Hope comedy “Hallelujah Girls” opening Friday at Willow Leaves of Hope, a church building itself gets converted — into a cast-all-your-cares day spa.

Call it fervent faith in glorious unwinding.

But the women of Eden Falls, Georgia, have more than relaxing on their minds. At the place called Spa-Dee-Dah, the ladies realize after the death of a friend that life is fragile and there is no time like the present to pursue their dreams. But keeping them all motivated could seemingly take an act of God, as their leader Sugar Lee (played by Connie Kiviniemi-Baylor) soon discovers.

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Such comedic shows have been huge hits for the local dinner theater troupe for the past few years, selling out sometimes six or seven straight 100-seat performances.

“They can’t seem to get enough,” said Naomi Fleetwood Pyle, who plays one of the leading women in Mavis and also serves as director and producer. “The bottom line is that people want to walk out after a show feeling good. And Willow Leaves really lends itself to a warm, fuzzy atmosphere.”

It helps that Pyle and her friends have become fairly established at comedy — so much so that Actors Studio of Hope earned Best Show of the Year and Best Ensemble Cast two years ago from the Southern Indiana Theatre Association for the comedy “The Dixie Swim Club.” Judges especially congratulated the troupe for the easy camaraderie among characters, unaware that most were friends in real life.

Plus, even a few years of stage time apparently makes a big difference.

“When you have experienced actors, they generally don’t need a lot of direction,” Pyle said. “They get to the point of being pretty good at taking their characters and finding a way to run with them.”

Sugar Lee must wrestle a bit with the character of Bunny (played by Robin Nolan), who possesses such a high opinion of herself that she always hoped to covert the abandoned church into a museum for her own legacy.

“One of the fantastic points of productions like ‘The Hallelujah Girls’ is that it’s partly a story about friendship,” Kiviniemi-Baylor said. “And we get along well off stage, so I think that in turn shows up on stage as we give people a feel for the fact that these people have been friends for a long, long time.”

This marks the third time Kiviniemi-Baylor has been in the show. She played a different character in a Brownstown production, but played the same role in an Indianapolis presentation.

“I just love to entertain people,” Kiviniemi-Baylor said. “I especially like to make them laugh.”

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What: Actors Studio of Hope’s dinner theater production of the comedy "The Hallelujah Girls," about a group of women who turn an old church into a day spa.

When: 7 p.m. Oct. 5-6 and 12-13, and 2 p.m. Oct. 7 and 14.

Where: Willow Leaves of Hope, 326 Jackson St. in Hope.

Principal cast: Connie Kiviniemi-Baylor as Sugar Lee; Naomi Fleetwood Pyle as Mavis; Lisa Barrett as Carlene; Cori Brod as Crystal; Carol Hartwell as Nita; Robin Nolan as Bunny; Jason Bowser as Bobby Dwayne; and Trevor DeWitt as Porter Padgett.

Tickets: $25, includes salad bar, dinner, dessert and the show.

Information and reservations: 812-546-0640.