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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
Sherri L. Edelen
Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, is launching its "Season of Reinvention" with a rollicking, racy production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. While director Eric Schaeffer's program notes talk about the serious matters covered by the musical—such as hypocrisy, attack journalism, and rushing to judgment—these issues are much more palatable when served up in the sugar-and-spice format of Larry L. King and Peter Masterson's book and Carol Hall's songs.

The 1978 musical is a slightly fictionalized retelling of a true story. The Chicken Ranch, a down-home brothel in rural Texas, has been doing business quietly for close to a century when a grandstanding Houston television personality decides (for the sake of goodness, righteousness and ratings) to call for its shutdown. Because Miss Mona (Sherri L. Edelen), the no-nonsense boss, and her employees have never caused any trouble—in fact, she's one of the town's leading financial benefactors—the incident takes her by surprise and she seeks help from her longtime friend, Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd (Thomas Adrian Simpson).

Edelen succeeds at being both earthy and majestic as Miss Mona: she captures the attention whenever she appears. Simpson is a charmer as a plain-talking lawman who has no problem with what he considers victimless crime; he also has a smooth baritone voice. Christopher Bloch squeezes every bit of ridiculous humor out of "watchdog" reporter Melvin T. Thorpe, who never goes anywhere without his singing and dancing entourage.

Karma Camp's choreography is both sexy and often funny, whether presenting tableaux of the history of the Chicken Ranch or depicting an eager group of college football players preparing to celebrate their victory.

Collin Ranney's scenic design sets the mood instantly: a wide-open room, two stories' worth of sliding doors, and cattle horns mounted on the back wall—and the prevailing color is hot pink. The employees wear lingerie in varying color combinations of red and black, as designed by Kathleen Geldard.

Rather than a coherent whole of a work, Best Little Whorehouse is more like a patchwork of scenes, songs and dances: they all work, but not necessarily together. Hall has seen fit to give two of the best songs to characters who have little to do with the main plot, but that's not to say that Miss Mona's assistant Jewel (Nova Y. Payton) doesn't rattle the rafters with "Twenty Four Hours of Lovin'," or that diner owner Doatsy Mae (Tracy Lynn Olivera) doesn't shine in sharing her private thoughts.

And about that "reinvention" business ... Last season, Signature staged the world premieres of four musicals (two in rep) and one play. This year, the theater is rethinking older works rather than launching new ones, although with new twists promised in such familiar titles as Company, Dreamgirls, and Hello, Dolly!.

Signature Theatre
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
August 14th - October 7th
Book by Larry L. King & Peter Masterson
Music & Lyrics by Carol Hall
Edsel Mackey: Stephen F. Schmidt
Angel: Erin Driscoll
Shy: Madeline Botteri
Miss Mona Stangley: Sherri L. Edelen
The Girls at Miss Mona's: Linda Lou, Nora Palka; Dawn, Nadia Harika; Ginger, Amy McWilliams; Beatrice, Tamara Young; Ruby Rae, Jamie Eacker; Eloise, Maria Rizzo; Durla, Brianne Camp
Melvin P. Thorpe: Christopher Bloch
The Dogettes: Jamie Eacker, Nadia Harika, Davis Hasty, Ben Horen, David C. Jennings, Nora Palka, Stephen Gregory Smith, Tamara Young
Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd: Thomas Adrian Simpson
CJ Scruggs: Dan Manning
Mayor Rufus Poindexter: Matt Conner
Doatsy Mae: Tracy Lynn Olivera
Senator Wingwoah: Matt Conner
Aggie Boys: Jay Adriel, Davis Hasty, Benjamin Horen, David C. Jennings, Vincent Kempski, Gannon O'Brien, Stephen Gregory Smith
Governor: Dan Manning
Directed by Eric Schaeffer
Musical direction by Gabriel Mangiante
Choreographed by Karma Camp
MAX Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: 703-820-9771 or 1-800-955-5566 or www.signature-theatre.org


Photo: Scott Suchman


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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