Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Willows Theatre Company Presents A Rip-Roaring
The Willows Theatre Company is currently presenting the 25th Anniversary Revival of Carol Hall's The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas at their Concord Playhouse. This production is a rip-roaring, high octane production with Diana Torres Koss making a perfect Miss Mona. The musical is perfect for the Willows stage with a live western band consisting of guitar player, bass player and keyboard artist all playing on the top of the stage.
I first saw Whorehouse at the 46th Street Theatre in 1978 with Carlin Glynn as Miss Mona, Henderson Forsythe as Ed Earl Dodd and an amazing dancing and singing chorus of masculine males and pretty young girls under the direction of Tommy Tune. The musical took New York by storm and it ran 1584 performances. A national touring company starring Alexis Smith made the rounds of American cities to great acclaim. It was revived in 1982 at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre where it played only 63 performances with Carlin Glynn repeating her role. That same year, the film version opened with Dolly Parton taking the role of the leader of the whorehouse. The western swing presentation was recently revived on tour with Ann-Margret taking over the role, and it played here recently in San Francisco.
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is based on fact. The Chicken Ranch (so named because during the depression customers were allowed to pay with poultry) was founded in a little town in Texas in 1844 and it was forced to close down in the '70s by a Christian Right television communicator. The musical is a grand satire, making fun of Texas, "say nothing" politicians, hypocrites and the media in general.
In the musical, Melvin Thorpe, a TV broadcaster who is eager for the spotlight, reveals the house where "loveless copulation" is going on and puts the media spotlight on the unfortunate business, where state politicians, college football players and other notables frequently visit. The politicians, eager to preserve their political careers, choose to publicly denounce the Ranch. Miss Mona and her girls are thrown out onto the street to sing "Hard Candy Christmas."
The energy of the dancing in this Willows Productions is amazing. Diana Torres Koss as Miss Mona is outstanding in the role. She plays it beautifully and has a powerful voice in her numbers with the girls. Michael Ray Wisely, as naïve foul mouth sheriff Ed Earl Dodd, has an expressive singing voice and brings depth to this sympathetic character. Angel, played by Sorsha Miles and her strong voice, is especially prominent in the song "Hard Candy Christmas." Kendra Owens, who had the best voice in the company, shines in "Girl You're a Woman." It reminds me of Mahalia Jackson singing many of her numbers. One of the highlights is Randy Anger as the Governor singing the hilarious song "The Sidestep." Amy L. Washburn is whimsical as Doatsy Mae the waitress.
The male dancers, especially in the Aggie Number and the Prom that ends the first act, are full of tremendous exuberance performing the great choreography by Abe Sylvia. The female chorus of "ladies" is super in both the singing and dancing categories. Direction by Mark Jacobs is fast and right on the mark, and the set by Michael Cook gives a certain rustic Texas feel to the stage. The three piece orchestra of Mitch Polzak on guitar, Brenden Glueck on bass and Becky Potter on keyboards gives the musical a truly western feel. They also entertain stage top front as the audience enters the theater. Becky plays the washboard, an instrument that I had not seen since my early days in Ohio.
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas plays through Saturday July 21 and tickets can be obtained by calling 925-798-1300 or by visiting www.willowstheatre.org. Their next production is John Patrick's The Teahouse of the August Moon, which opens on September 16 and runs through October 20.