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story.lead_photo.caption Photo courtesy Suzanne M. Thomas The cast says not laughing has been the biggest challenge during rehearsals for "Happily Ever After," a romantic comedy opening Valentine's Day at Fort Smith Little Theatre. Here, two deluded women (Victoria Walden, left, and Morgan Henderson, right) battle for the attention of Gert Fleers (Randall Marks), a mystery man who has caused a lot of uproar.

It's moments before her wedding, and Francie has barricaded herself inside the church nursery, convinced that she's destined for a fairy-tale ending with someone other than the groom -- if he ever wakes up from his coma. Her mother's determined to make loyal fiance Kyle her son-in-law by any means necessary -- but there's a dog funeral scheduled at the church, the caterer is under a table with the minister, and the whole town's in a hubbub over a presidential visit. And that's before Francie's sleeping beauty wakes up.

It's either an episode of "One Life to Live" or a "full-on comedy with some elements of farce to it" -- and the director is going with the latter. Playwright Mark Dunn actually made that choice himself in 2015, appending the title "Happily Ever After" with "A Wedding Comedy." And Eric Wells, director of the production opening Valentine's Day at Fort Smith Little Theatre, couldn't agree more.

FAQ

‘Happily Ever After’

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. Feb. 14 (opening night gala), Feb. 15-16 & 20-23; 2 p.m. Feb. 17

WHERE — Fort Smith Little Theatre, 401 N. Sixth St. in Fort Smith

COST — $27 champagne opening night; $12 all other performances

INFO — 783-2966 or fslt.org

"Overall, it is a perfect romantic comedy," he says. "This show just screams Valentine's Day date night. There are so many hopeless romantics in this story that everyone is bound to fall in love with how each character finds his or her happily ever after."

Actress Victoria Walden says Francie "lives her life like a fairy tale, and it causes hilarious drama. She's unlike anyone I've met before, so she's been kind of challenging to play."

But, she adds, "I've been around musical theater my whole life through my parents. My first play was 'Little Women,' where I got to be the big sister to fellow cast ate, Jamie Lambdin. We were directed by other castmate, Micki Voelkel. I've been lucky enough to be on stage multiple times since then."

Lambdin plays Gwenjane Searcy, one of the caterers for the wedding gone awry. In addition to trying to save the food, she's also flirting with the best man.

"Gwenjane is a hopeless romantic; she loves love and she has a hilarious, positive outlook on life," says Lambdin of her character. "I think Gwenjane is a lot like myself -- with no inhibitions."

Lambdin says she is getting married herself later this year, "so what better way to prepare for the wild wedding craziness than to be in a wedding comedy?"

Summer Robinson, who directed "Noises Off" at FSLT in November, plays Gwenjane's business partner, Polly Rosenhaus.

"Miss Polly and I are both from Texas, and she is just as nutty as I am," she says.

And then there's Adelle, the mother of the bride and "a strong Southern woman who likes to get her way." Portrayed by Micki Voelkel, she's determined to see the wedding through to completion, and "she moves mountains to do it."

Voelkel is no stranger to the theater or to this theater. "I have a degree in theater from Northwestern University [and] I've acted all my life," she says. "I've performed with FSLT off and on since 1984."

Wells understands that commitment to FSLT all too well.

"I'm working full time while completing my education degree, so I intended to step away from the director's chair for awhile," he says. "Little did I know that the thrill of directing would make me want to do it all again.

"So I caved in and began searching for the right script. This story was a gem of a find with its ensemble-led characters that are unique and relatable. The script gives them each their own time to shine -- plus all the twists and turns in this play make for a fun story with laughs aplenty.

"Most weddings have a little behind-the-scenes drama or crisis -- but never has there been a wedding with circumstances like this!"

Audiences should know, too, that no dogs will be harmed in the making of this merriment -- even though one shorts out the public address system in the church -- but the president is accosted by the statue of a pioneer woman with a butter churn.

NAN What's Up on 02/10/2019

Print Headline: Happily Ever After?

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