THE CONCEPT OF DINNER THEATER has always conjured up visions of dining rooms full of wizened, blue-haired old ladies, forcing down bits of chicken-fried steak as B-grade Willy Lomans go through death throes on ersatz stages. So, wandering around the deserted Rainier Square in search of the Crepe de Paris restaurant where I was to watch a "honky tonk cabaret review," my expectations were not only low--they were nonexistent. As the lights dimmed and the audience tried to quell the clinking of silver on china, three women were revealed in silhouette, singing a stomach-turning, easy-listening-esque ballad entitled "Sisters (Best of Friends)" in a nasal country twang. Fearing my worst suspicions confirmed, I rolled my eyes, ordered a drink, and prepared myself to be tortured by an evening of lounge-adapted country music.

Imagine my surprise when the lights came up to reveal three giggling country gals--the Donk Sisters--in matching gingham and pigtails, a-pickin' and a-grinnin' their way through their first "pro-fesh-un-ayul" singing engagement at the 1964 Whitman County Fair. Through a series of concerts spanning 30 years, we follow the lives of these campy Mandrell Sisters-on-crack as they bullet to honky tonk stardom with their number one hit, "Wella Nuff Alone." Time takes them on a winding journey through broken marriages, changing trends, fashion, feminism, and family, while they croon such campy country favorites as "Harper Valley PTA" and "Dumb Blonde."

Karen Kay Cody, Bobbi Kotula, and Vickielee Wohlbach are hilarious and charming as the "Queens of Honky Tonk." Each boasts impressive stage credentials (Cody originated the role of Sophie De Palma in the Tony Award-winning Broadway production of Master Class), and their individual talents as expert vocalists and top-notch stage performers are obvious. As an ensemble they whoop some good ol' fashioned country ass, drawing the audience in with their over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek parodies of country music classics--and the often twisted lives of country music's super stars. With the simplest of stagings and a few campy wigs, they create characters that not only entertain, but evolve, engage, and inspire. Directed by Richard Gray--well known to Seattle audiences as an actor, composer, playwright, and musical director--The Donk Sisters is an evening of music, laughs, and down-home country kitsch that may just redeem the name of dinner theater.

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