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A CurtainUp DC Review
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

“Well, I’d like to offer a little civic leadership. But I’m not damn fool enough to do it until I know which way the people want to be led.” —Mayor Rufus Poindexter to the citizens of La Grange, Texas.

“Well, it looks to me like the confused against the mistaken, with the well meanin’ comin’ in to screw it up on both sides.” —Miss Mona’s take on small town politics.
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
Sherri L. Edelen as Miss Mona Stangley
(Photo: Scott Suchman)
Why, some might ask, would anyone revive a 1978 musical in 2012? Because, as director Eric Schaeffer points out in a program note, Signature, where the country-rock musical is currently kicking up its heels, likes to “re-discover” American musicals. And what a re-discovery! With tongue firmly in cheek, this is the best not-so-little musical to hit town in a long while.

Larry L. King and Peter Masterson’s story, based on facts, evolves around a long-running brothel known as the Chicken Ranch (because payment for services was often in the form of live stock) in La Grange, Texas. A black and white photo of its unassuming exterior hangs from the rafters of Collin Ranney’s bordello-red set. Inside, with its red-flocked wallpaper, mounted bull horns, and constantly whirring fans, dramatically lit by Colin K. Bills, it’s pretty clear that the place is hot. So is Signature’s Whorehouse.

Known for miles around, the Chicken Ranch is run by the formidable Miss Mona Stangley, played with Southern Belle charm and sharp Texas wit by Sherri L. Edelen, who clearly was born to play this part. “Ain’t nothing dirty going on,” says Miss Mona, of her “lil ole bitty pissant country place,” where the “ladies” play by house rules (no drinkin’, no chewing gum) and “guests” who are never called customers are entitled to “one small thrill.” Those guests include many of the state’s law makers and enforcers — every one a hypocrite. While all the Girls at Miss Mona’s (Nora Palka, Nadia Harika, Amy McWilliams, Tamara Young, Jamie Eacker, Maria Rizzo and Brianne Camp) are good dancers, their acting and singing is sometimes uneven. Their Fredericks of Hollywood-like costumes, complete with cowboy hats and boots, were designed by Kathleen Geldard.

Enter Melvin P. Thorpe (Christopher Bloch, in a strong performance), an egotistical tv reporter and self appointed moral watchdog in an ill-fitting wig. With his evangelical bent and a craving for attention, he is determined to milk the story of Miss Mona’s enterprise for all it is worth to his career. He shows up at rallies, mike in hand, to ask the questions politicians do not wish to answer. Their evasion of the truth can last only so long. The only difference in how news, especially gossip, is disseminated today is how widespread and how fast it travels thanks to the Internet. Just ask Prince Harry.

Not all the women of La Grange, Texas go for the kind of employment Miss Mona offers. There’s Doatsy Mae, a cynical waitress, played with great restraint and pathos by Tracy Lynn Olivera, in fine voice for her moving solo, “Doatsy Mae.” As the larger-than-life Governor, Dan Manning in a white suit and ten-gallon hat, resembles former real life Texas governor John Connelly. An orator who avoids giving straight answers to questions from the crowd, he does a surprisingly (given his height and girth) light-footed soft shoe, a high point of the evening and a reminder that although the show has some serious points to make, human foibles make for good times and good laughs.

By the beginning of Act Two, what Melvin P. Thorpe has started takes on a life of its own. Half the town, the holier-than-thou crowd, says it wants the Chicken Ranch shut down while the other half says it wants it kept open. The politicians, most of whom availed themselves of the services rendered at the Chicken Ranch, cause the place to close. End of an era for Miss Mona, her girls, and the town.

The difference in mood between the two acts is quite stark. The first is jubilant and a bit dirty with exciting dance numbers. Yu would be hard pressed to see better male ensemble dancing, particularly the footballers (Jay Adriel, Davis Hasty, Benjamin Horen, David C. Jennings, Vincent Kempski, Gannon O’Brien and Stephen Gregory Smith) in “The Aggie Song,” a boisterous number about scoring — on the field and at Miss Mona’s.

In the second act, rousing country songs give way to mournful ballads. But fear not, the cast, all of whom dance exceptionally well, end the evening by kicking up their heels in one last superb dance. Tommy Tune, the 6’7” lanky Texan was responsible for the original choreography. Karma Camp, assisted by her daughter Brianne Camp, deserve high praise this time around. It is the dancing, particularly by the men who are brilliant, that carries the show. They look as though they are having the time of their lives. And, unless you are a prude, you will too.

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

Book by Larry L. King and Peter Masterson
Music and lyrics by Carol Hall
Directed by Eric Schaeffer
Choreographer: Karma Camp
Associate Choreographer: Brianne Camp
Cast: Stephen F. Schmidt (Edsel Mackey), Erin Driscoll (Angel), Madeline Botteri (Shy), Nova Y. Payton (Jewel), Sherri L. Edelen (Miss Mona Stangley), Nora Palk, Nadia Harika, Amy McWilliams, Tamara Young, Jamie Eacher, Maria Rizzo, and Brianne Camp (the Girls at Miss Mona’s), Christopher Bloch (Melvin P. Thorpe), Jamie Eacher, Nadia Harika, Davis Hasty, Ben Horen, David C. Jennings, Nora Palka, Stephen Gregory Smith, Tamara Young (The Dogettes); Thomas Adrian Simpson (Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd), Dan Manning (CJ Scruggs/Governor), Matt Conner (Mayor Rufus Poindexter/Senator Wingwoah), Tracy Lunn Olivera (Doatsy Mae); Jay Adriel, Davis Hasty, Benjamin Horen, David C. Jennings, Vincent Kempski, Gannon O’Brien, Stephen Gregory Smith (Aggie Boys). Jamie Eacker (Dance Captain.)
Scenic Design: Colin Ranney
Costume Design: Kathleen Geldard
Lighting Design: Colin K. Bills
Sound Design: Matt Rowe
Music Direction/ Piano/Conductor: Gabriel Mangiante
Violin/Viola: Andrea Vercoe
Guitars: Gerry Kunkel and Tom Lagana
Bass: Chris Chlumsky
Drums: Gary Tillman
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes with one intermission.
Performances August 14 to October 7. Tickets $72 to $86; rush tickets, $30.
Signature Theatre 4200 Campbell Ave, Arlington, Virginia 22206. Box Office, 703 820 9771; 571 527 1860.

Musical Numbers Act One: 20 Fans; A Lil’ Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place; Girl, You’re A Woman; Watchdog Theme, Texas has A Whorehouse In It; Twenty Four Hours of Lovin’; Doatsy Mae; The Aggie Song; Bus From Amarillo; The Raid.
Musical NumbersAct Two: The Sidestep; No Lies; Good Old Girl; Hard Candy Christmas; A Friend To Me.
Review by Susan Davidson based on August 26, 2012 performance.

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