Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
Take a bit of glitz, some scantily clad women, throw in a big name star with a southern drawl, and you've got the current touring production of The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas. Now playing at The National Theatre, this '70s favorite tells the story of the Chicken Ranch, a small-town Texas brothel trying to survive the persecution of a sensational "watchdog" reporter, and the state officials that want to close it down.
Making her theatrical debut, Ann-Margret would seem to be a fitting choice for the role of Miss Mona Stangley, the no-nonsense madam with a heart of gold. However, she is not a perfect fit. Although a successful film and television star, it is obvious that Ann-Margret has not yet become accustomed to performing in live musical theater. Seemingly restrained, she frequently delivered her lines to the audience, never really connecting with the surrounding cast members.
It was apparent that this production, directed and choreographed by Thommie Walsh, was customized for Ann-Margret. The choreography, perhaps a bit uninspired for the Miss Mona character, gives the ensemble a chance to sparkle. The costumes created by Dona Granata for the majority of the cast, are appropriate for the time period and setting. Bob Mackie specially designed Ann-Margret 's costumes. Although beautiful, the elaborate wardrobe does nothing to enhance her performance. Fortunately, a talented supporting cast and ensemble manages sustain her.
Gary Sandy, best known for his portrayal of Andy Travis on television's "WKRP In Cincinnati", is amusing as the brash sheriff, Ed Earl Dodd. However, the shining moments in the show belong to Avery Sommers and Ed Dixon. Ms. Sommers delivers a joyous performance as Jewel, Miss Mona's loyal sidekick. Her rendition of "24 Hours of Lovin'" is sung with an exhilarating R&B quality. A veteran of the stage, Ed Dixon portrays a number of characters in the show effectively, but his interpretation of the cagey governor is right on the mark. His performance of "The Sidestep" is truly memorable.
With a catchy score and an enjoyable book, The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas only works well as light entertainment. Connoisseurs of musical theater should not expect more than the feeling one experiences during a Las Vegas-style show. However, if you are looking for star power, The National Theatre is the place to be. The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas is a limited engagement, which runs through May 20th.
Photo: Joan Marcus