BWW Reviews: THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS Is Innocent Dirty Fun at Broadway Rose
Thirty-six years ago, when The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas premiered in New York, the producers had trouble placing ads for it because of its title. Right now, it's being performed in the auditorium of a public high school. Yes, times have changed. But Whorehouse, for all of its naughty language and scantily clad cast members, is actually one of the most innocent shows around. The prostitutes work in the most wholesome brothel on the planet, run by a schoolmarmish type who sets down some rather strict rules, and their customers seem more interested in dancing with the girls than everything else.
Broadway Rose's production, directed by Peggy Taphorn, gets the tone just right. The title establishment, known as the Chicken Ranch, looks like a fine old Southern mansion, and the costumes for the girls (great work by Shana Targosz throughout), are more suggestive than flat-out sexy. The dialogue is straight out of burlesque, with puns and Southern-isms clouding the issues at hand. The story, such as it is, concerns a TV newsman who's decided the Chicken Ranch needs to be shut down, and eventually the governor and the county sheriff do just that. Really, the plot is just a through-line to hang the songs and scenes on. Characters like a waitress or a football team or the governor wander in, sing their one song, and leave again. A group of cheerleaders drops by, dances up a storm (with the help of some amazingly springy costars), and exits to great applause. The Texas Aggies football team even two-steps around their locker room for no apparent reason except to get the chorus boys to take their shirts off. And it all fits.
Broadway Rose and director Taphorn have put together one of the best ensembles I've seen. All ten of the girls who play the prostitutes are terrific singers and dancers; each finds a different hook or mannerism for her character, and while you might not learn all their names, you welcome them back each time they arrive; most also double as cheerleaders, reporters, townswomen, and other characters along the way, filling out the show's many big numbers, and shining near the close of the show with the ballad "Hard Candy Christmas." Likewise, those football players fill in as townspeople, customers of the Ranch, TV camerapeople, and just about anything else, and they sing in glorious harmony whenever asked.
The character parts are also well cast. Emily Sahler plays that sad-eyed waitress, Doatsey Mae, and delivers her ballad simply and beautifully, but also flits around in a number of other roles. Carmen N. Brantly-Payne delivers a couple of rousing gospel-style numbers as Jewel, the assistant director of the Ranch. Jim Peerenboom is a delight as the governor, who dances up a storm while managing to avoid ever answering a question; his number makes especially good use of the two-level set. Dan Murphy does his usual showboating work as Melvin P. Thorpe, the obnoxious crusading TV journalist, but since the character is supposed to be over the top, Murphy for once fits the role.
Colin Wood, as the sheriff, does great work; he manages to let just a little sentimentality slip in underneath the man's blustery, foul-mouthed personality, and when he finally gets a song, it's lovely, and you wish they'd let the sheriff sing more. He's paired with Sharon Murphy as Miss Mona, the manager of the Chicken Ranch, and the two are supposed to have a long history together, but they never connected. Ms. Murphy seemed ill at ease when I saw the show; she struggled with her songs, especially the uptempo numbers, and rarely seemed to make any human contact with her fellow actors. Then again, I have yet to see her in a role where she seems comfortable with the material or with the other people on stage.
I haven't even mentioned the excellent work of choreographer Jacob Toth, who kept the youngsters kicking up their heels throughout the evening, with a number of sustained dance numbers that never grew dull or repetitive. Even the curtain call got the entire cast dancing and stomping. So was a big portion of the audience. And who could ever complain about that?