Three women, 20 roles and one smooth-talking devil all add up to one helluva good time in “Hell’s Belles,” the musical opening this weekend at Empire Stage in Fort Lauderdale.
History’s most infamous women carry a tune…or an axe…or a grudge…in Hell’s “theater district,” where a show-biz-loving devil emcees a never-ending revue featuring famous and infamous women from history.
Janis Joplin celebrates sex, drugs, booze and rock ‘n roll before an epic showdown between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Then Princess Diana makes a surprise visit from Heaven, where she’s incredibly bored hanging out with Mother Theresa.
“It’s all basically a satire on the social issues surrounding these women,” explained producer Eileen Weiss. “I mean, who decides whether they go to heaven and hell? Some of them are having the time of their life while others desperately want to leave. It’s all about women’s rights and also gay and lesbian rights.”
“Hell’s Belles,” with book and lyrics by Bryan D. Leys and music by Steve Liebman, was initially presented as a benefit performance at New York City’s Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center more than a decade ago.
Weiss and her sister Sharon acquired the show in 2008 and produced additional runs at the Duplex, Wings Theatre, West End Theatre and Midtown Theatre. The Off-Broadway production ran at the Elektra Theatre in 2014.
“Our goal was always to do regional productions or tour. The writer, Bryan, updates the script to fit the locale and the current political location—ironically, Donald Trump was always in the show. There always was a reference, it wasn’t added just for this production…and every time the material gets tighter. It’s very, very funny,” she said.
Liebman died a couple of years ago, Weiss reported, although the score for the show remains one of his most performed.
For the South Florida premiere, Weiss tapped director Kevin Dean and music director Paul Tine for the 85-minute, one act production. For the first time, one of the belles will be played by a man, Trevor Peringer, who appeared as Ginger in the Empire Stage Production of “Gilligan’s Fire Island” three years ago.
In addition to Peringer, who will be returning to Fort Lauderdale from San Diego, the other cast members include local actors Larry Buzzeo and Sharyn Peoples, and newcomer Lauren Tuma.
“Hell’s Belles” will be performed April 11 – May 5 at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Dr. in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets are $35 at EmpireStage.com.