BWW Reviews: Well-Staged Revival of BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE at Candlelight Pavilion Is Raucous Hit
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas/book by Larry L. King & Peter Masterson/music & lyrics by Carol Hall/directed & choreographed by John Vaughan/Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre, Claremont/through February 2
When it first opened in New York in the late 70s, the musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, based on a true story, did not top the list of Broadway greats, yet it did pick up a few Tonys and stirred up sufficient excitement to keep the box office flourishing and to spawn national/international tours. Perhaps the bruhaha was due to Carol Hall's fine musical tunes and some mighty fine choreography from Tommy Tune, or maybe, most theatregoers had a prurient interest in exploring a house of prostitution, theatrically nicknamed the Chicken Ranch. The book's openly sexual banter and colorful rural lingo create a genuine Texas ambiance... and throw in the wild simulated-sex moves through dance and you do get plenty of pleasurable stimulation, but, when all is said and done, the show is pretty low on plot. Sure, there's a struggle to save the Chicken Ranch from being closed down by fanatics and politicians, but that does not constitute enough of a dramatic conflict to shake or move you to the brink. Now onstage at Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre, this new production of Whorehouse boasts some lively choreography from John Vaughan and a stellar musical performance from country singer Lisa Layne as Miss Mona.
This is the 70s, a period in which innocence was fading fast, as seen onscreen in American Graffiti and Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, so to fully enjoy Whorehouse adjust your mindset to a 40 year retrospective when there was at least a semblance of morality and respectability. If you didn't live through it, then take my word for it, people then were more concerned with keeping their sins under wraps.OK, I'm not on a pedestal so let's get down and dirty... who doesn't find appeal in those lusty Southern gals and guys of just about any era past or present with their totally carefree liberal attitudes toward sexual servicing? Miss Mona, proprietor of the Chicken Ranch, tells it like it is, is wise beyond words, so any failures... she takes almost in stride. "I've gone from poor up to outcast!" Sure, this is a dated piece, as morals are now out the window, and as a consequence, more people may relate to Miss Mona's predicament and surely sympathize with her fight against hypocrisy and crooked politics. Don't we have a whorehouse in operation near Las Vegas? Legalize prostitution, hell, yes! I'm for it 100%, as long as the right care and precautions are taken.
Mona is surely likable, as is her friend Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd (Steven Biggs); it's too bad that book writers Larry L. King and Peter Masterson didn't develop more deeply the heartwarming love that apparently existed between these two people. As seen, it's too superficial and leaves us wanting more. Somehow in the 1982 movie, Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton were able to convey more intimacy.
Another fault with the book is that the other characters in the play around Mona and Ed are nothing short of cartoons. Take Melvin P. Thorpe (Jeremy Magouirk) or the Senator or Governor (both played by David Aldrete); they are cardboard cutouts of human beings. Even the girls, with the exception of Angel (Adrianne Hampton) and Shy (Marie Gutierrez), and guys, who represent the political opposition, never get to show a spark of humanity. The only other exception is Jewel, the brothel maid (Rashonda Johnson), an additional grounded free-spirit like Miss Mona.
But, putting these weaknesses in the storytelling aside, as musical comedy goes, there are the racy joke lines and all that glorious dancing, from the girls and the Aggies, the high school football team who have their annual night out at the Chicken Ranch. It seems that The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, like Miss Mona, is what it is. It's two hours of instantaneous fun, nothing more.
Under John Vaughan's slick direction, the ensemble is fantastic, although, at the matinee, a few needed to pick up the pace. Layne is a terrific Miss Mona, like a lovable Dolly Parton, with a superior singing voice and style like Patsy Cline. What a fine singer! Biggs brings a lot of human touches to the fore as Ed Earl. Magouirk and Aldrete do their best with what they're given. A standout in the male chorus is Bert Fulton, who shines as loud-mouthed C.J. Scruggs. Another standout is Rashonda Johnson as Jewel, who can really sing up a storm, as she did previously in The Sounds of Motown. Costumes by Merrill Grady are just fine, none overdone. It is wonderful to see the orchestra onstage with great musical direction from Douglas Austin. Carol Hall's score is cool especially the hit "Hard Candy Christmas". This time around I also came to love "No Lies" and "The Bus from Amarillo", perhaps due to Layne's excellent artistry.