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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas


"If I stand still they’ll fuck me and if I run they’ll bite me in the ass." — Sheriff
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
Sarah Lark as Miss Mona
(Photo: Paddy Patrick)
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is known in the UK as the musical film starring Dolly Parton but here it is revived at a tiny fringe venue, the Union Theatre in Southwark. I’m beginning to think that London’s Fringe has more to offer the musical enthusiast than the West End, and of course at a mere fraction of the seat price.

This is the third of three outstanding and joyful musical productions I have seen on the Fringe recently, there was the dark Parade at Southwark Playhouse mentioned in the Evening Standard longlist, the excellent Ragtime at the Landor and now the story of the Texan brothel known as The Chicken Ranch in the fictional town of Gilbert and its battle against the evangelising television celebrity and reporter Melvin P Thorpe (Leon Craig).

Sarah Lark has the sweetest face and a lovely voice to match as the brothel’s Madame, Miss Mona. We felt the romance when she talks about her romantic night in Galveston with the now Sheriff (James Parkes) on the night of Kennedy’s inauguration. Of course, being a guy, the Sheriff’s memory of the same evening is altogether more prosaic. There is a good duet from Miss Mae and Stephanie Tavernier as her maid in "No Lies".

There are also some serious points to be made in advocating a brothel where the girls are properly cared for, free from pimps and alcohol, as it becomes apparent that some of these girls are running away, from a physically abusive relationship, Angel (Franki Jenna) or a sexually abusive father, Shy (Nancy Sullivan).

There is some enjoyable, enthusiastic choreography: first the cheer leaders and then the football jocks who manage a full tap routine, some of it on a bed base for the Aggie Song before they are whisked off for the team treat with the ladies of the Chicken Ranch. I liked the villain Melvin P Thorpe’s spangled entrance with his cowboy glee singers and girlie choir. Doatsey Mae (Lindsay Scigliano) who runs the local café has a powerful voice and belts out her own song in "Doatsey Mae". It seems her singing is whole lot better than her coffee!

The designer has gone to town on the girls’ working clothes, mostly underwear, and Miss Mona has some lovely sequinned dresses and cowgirl outfits with high heeled boots. I liked too the painted backdrop of the red and white stripes of the American flag lest we forget where this is set and the four piece band sheltering behind some straw bales and wearing Lone star State outfits. There are small touches of sensitive decor: for instance, the portrait of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa as if she hadn’t a stitch on.

Sadly it all has to end as they say farewell in the "One Way Ticket to Amarillo" but this feel good show puts a spring in our step as we venture away from Texas, back to cold and drizzly London.

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The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
Book: Larry L King and Peter Masterson
Music and Lyrics Carol Hall
Directed by Paul Taylor-Mills

Starring: Sarah Lark
With: Luke Barron, Aimee Buchanan, Leon Craig, Patrick George, Dayle Hodge, Frankie Jenna, Jodie Lee Wilde, Tony Longhurst, Oliver Metcalfe, Dan O’Brien, Stephen Oliver Webb, Jarred Page, Jamie Papanicolaou, James Parkes, Kimberley Powell, Lindsay Scigliano, Nancy Sullivan, Sasi Strallen, Katy Stredder, Stephanie Tavernier, Kelle Walters, Scott Wheeler, Anthony Williamson
Design: Kingsley Hall
Musical Director: Tom Turner
Choreographer: Richard Jones
Lighting: Howard Hudson
Running time: Two hours 15 minutes including one interval
Box Office: 0844 871 7624
Booking to 12th November 2011
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 20th October 2011 performance at The Union Theatre, Union street, London SE1 (Tube:Southwark)

Song List with original recording artist
Act One
  • 20 Fans
  • A Lil' Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place
  • Girl, You're a Woman
  • Watch Dog Theme
  • Texas Has a Whorehouse in It
  • Twenty Four Hours of Lovin'
  • Watch Dog Theme (Reprise)
  • Doatsy Mae
  • The Aggie Song
  • Act Two
    • The Sidestep
    • No Lies
    • Good Old Girl
    • Hard Candy Christmas
    • The Bus From Amarillo
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