Regional Reviews: Seattle
Also see Jonathan's review of Don Juan
Seattle has a whorehouse in it; lord have mercy on our souls. Actually, one needn't worry too much about the current touring production of The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas (currently at The Paramount Theatre) leading one into temptation as it is a rather harmless affair.
On Broadway, Whorehouse was a surprise hit, running 1,584 performances (and indeed, would have run longer if not for a run-in with the American Federation of Musicians). While its playful sexuality and half-naked showgirls titillated the business traveler, it was its sarcastic heart, lampooning hypocritical politicians and conservative do-gooders rocking the boat for ratings, that gave the show its well-formed legs. If ever a show was ripe for a major rethinking ala Sam Mendes' Cabaret, Whorehouse is it (although conservative windbags pontificating on the air for ratings and sidestepping Texas governors who rule by public opinion have no basis in today's reality). Unfortunately, the current tour is a watered down version of the original and lacks even the punch it possessed.
A large portion of the problem is that director/choreographer Thommie Walsh has basically recreated the original, right down to the functional, but non-ornamental set by Margorie Bradley Kellogg; a description that unfortunately applies to his direction and choreography as well. For a show that is based on the sex trade, this is a very unsexy show. The choreography is primarily 'step-touch-pose' and few of the ensemble possess the spark or sexiness needed to bring the show to a semblance of life.
The supporting actors are doing their damndest and for the most part succeed, bringing much needed zip to the show. Ed Dixon steals the show as the sidestepping Governor who leads as the winds of popular opinion dictate. Terri Dixon is every inch the professional (both working girl and actress) as Angel and leaves the other girls in her dust. Jen Celene Little makes an appealing Shy and Rob Donohue is perfectly officious as the meddlesome 'do-gooder' Melvin P. Thorpe. Roxie Lucas (who appeared in the original Broadway production and the tour with Alexis Smith) brings a perfect mix of broad comedy and heart-rending 'what might have been' to the character of Doatsy Mae. Avery Sommers is a gem of a Jewel, but is hampered by lack of support on all sides so cannot fully cut loose.
The leads are more problematic. In another production of Whorehouse, Gary Sandy could have been stellar, as he has the energy and the voice to more than fill the part. Unfortunately, he is emoting for two and thus comes across as being too big and broad for the show. The most disappointing aspect of the show is, unfortunately, the main reason people are flocking to the Whorehouse: the perennial sex-kitten, Ann-Margret. While looking and sounding fine at a well-preserved 60, Ann-Margret is a decade past playing the part of the hostess with the mostest, Miss Mona. Watching Newsies last week, in which she played a freewheeling vaudeville performer, brought home the fact that a decade ago she would have been simply astonishing in the part. Unfortunately, she currently lacks the oomph to carry her sexiness (or much of anything) much farther than the first couple of rows and is largely sedentary.
A stronger director may have been able to break Ann-Margret of her 'plant stage center and sing' Vegas habit (as Whorehouse is her theatrical debut), and a stronger choreographer would have restored the much-needed and sorely-missed playful sexiness to the show, especially in regards to the lackluster ensemble. Interestingly enough, the show's curtain call is the one moment where all the elements come together and the cast is brought to energetic life.
Even in its watered down form, Whorehouse remains a mildly enjoyable experience, being chock full of lots of good will, and maybe one small thrill, due to a strong supporting cast and musicians (indeed: the show sounds much better live than on the Fynsworth cast album released last year). Now if only we could get Reba ... The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas runs at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle through March 31st before continuing its tour.
Photo: Joan Marcus- Jonathan Frank