BWW Reviews: THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS at TUTS: Bawdy And Big-Hearted
THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS may just sound like a show about happy hookers with hearts of gold, but it's actually deeply rooted in Texas history. Written by Texan Larry L. King and Peter Masterson with music and lyrics by Carol Hall, the musical is based on an actual brothel that operated in La Grange, Texas. "The Chicken Ranch" was established in 1905 by Jesse Williams (Miss Wulla Jean), and it had a long run due to it's connections with local law enforcement. Edna Milton (Miss Mona) became the manager of the Chicken Ranch in 1952. The brothel thrived for almost 20 years until it was exposed on a national level by Marvin Zindler (Melvin P. Thorpe).
Directed by the esteemed Bruce Lumpkin, this production of THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS is colorful and big-hearted.
The actors are exceptional in this TUTS production, and Michelle DeJean (Miss Mona) is no shrinking violet, with her gorgeous voice and earthy stage presence. DeJean has a great laugh and is a master of timing and nuance. Her rendition of "Bus From Amarillo" is especially in-depth and true. DeJean has wonderful stage chemistry with everyone, particularly the perfectly-cast Kevin Cooney, who plays Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd. With cantankerous wit Cooney steps into the role as easy as buttery leather cowboy boots. His lines are unarguably the funniest, and Cooney wields them with perfect comedic pitch.
The musical is strewn with interesting characters, which is actually problem at times. At the top of the show we meet naive and awkward Shy, played by funny girl Betty Marie Muessig. This is a character that garners immediate tenderness and interest, but then you don't see much of her for the rest of the show. This is true of many characters, including Doatsey Mae (Brooke Wilson), and Jewel (Aurelia Williams). You meet them, you're hooked, and then you wait several scenes to ever see them again. In many cases their stories are only lightly touched upon and you long for a more fulfilling character journey. The script gives the sense that there are too many chickens in the henhouse and not much time to give them their due. Luckily, this production is flush with talent and the cast compensates for scanty script with many high-spirited and emotional moments onstage.
Truly there is no weak link in this cast. "The Girls", or prostitutes, are a strong group of performers who harmonize beautifully and dance like nobody's business. "Hard Candy Christmas" is a highlight, especially with the lovely Julia Krohn (Amber) starting the tune with her gorgeous, honey-toned voice. "No Lies" is another rousing number, teaming up Aurelia Williams (Jewel) with Dejean and The Girls. Williams has a million-dollar smile and a voice that fills Miller Outdoor Theater with a rich resonance. She downright shines in the number "Twenty-Four Hours of Lovin'". Michael Tapley is hilarious as the relentless Melvin P. Thorpe. With his tacky suit and televangelist rantings Tapley clearly enjoys playing a man on a mission. Appropriately charming yet smarmy, Brad Zimmerman expertly plays politician Mayor Rufus PoinDexter.
The Aggies are believably boisterous and randy, and there's something thrilling about watching a group of men dance like there's no tomorrow.
Ray Delle Robbins does a bang up job of costuming the show, with her hilarious Aggie cheerleader costumes and toothache-sweet Dogette confections.
Shay Rodgers' choreography is fun and inspired, particularly in the "Aggie Song".
In short, this is a bright and big-hearted TUTS show with ample talent. Be forewarned, however; the show is a strong "PG-13" and not at all appropriate for children.
Photo Credits: Gaby Quintana