Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
None of this bitterness is due to the cast or the creative team of 42nd Street Moon, whoas usualapproach their work with a sense of joy and love for musical theatre that usually feels like a big, warm hug to the soul. But (and here comes the spoiler) when right-wing media conspire with evangelical "Christianity" to enforce their morality in order to shut down a sex-positive business that is being run without exploiting (in fact, empowering) the women who work in it, I felt like a certain theatrical contract had been broken. Perhaps The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas should have been an opera, where tragedy is the norm. But for musical theatre, wherewith rare exceptionswe expect the good guys to triumph in the end, this sad conclusion, with the women of the Chicken Ranch out of work, with their bags packed, ready to catch busses to who-knows-where, left me profoundly depressed. (The film version of the musical, starring Dolly Parton and the late Burt Reynolds, has a decidedly happier ending: the madam, Miss Mona, and sheriff Ed Earl marry, and the sheriff goes on to be elected to the state legislature.)
Despite the pall this dolorous conclusion cast on my spirit, I will say there is much to like about 42nd Street Moon's production. The cast approach their roles with tremendous brio and undeniable energy. Just as Miss Mona runs the Chicken Ranch with a calm, steady, reassuring hand, Dyan McBride plays the role with a similar surety. She is a solid center around which the sisterhood of her girls can orbit, and which provides a steadying influence over the horniness of her guests. (They are never "johns," "tricks," or even "customers" to Miss Mona.) As Jewel, Miss Mona's right hand, Doris Bumpus brings a gentle composure (and a lovely voice) to a relatively small role, which she enlarges by her solid performance.
Director/choreographer Christina Lazo elicits a lovely palette of performances from the other ladies of the Chicken Ranch. Ginger (Andrea Dennison-Laufer) is sassy and sexy, Ashley Garlick brings a delicious attitude to the role of Angel, and Madison Genovese exudes a reticent innocence that is perfect for the aptly named Shy. She has a lovely moment when we first see her and she is checking her look, but instead of using a makeup compact, she is gazing at her reflection in a rear view mirror she probably pulled from the cab of a pickup.
The men of this production are every bit as good as the women. Michael Ray Wisely makes his 42nd Street Moon debut here, and it would be sagacious of the producers to add him to their list of regulars, as his sexy lawman with a sense of propriety is the perfect complement to Miss Mona's commitment to running her business with care and caring.
DC Scarpelli takes his portrayal of Melvin P. Thorpe, the crusading Christian investigative reporter (the "Watchdog"), right over the topwhich is exactly where it belongs. With his brilliant blue suit (fine costuming from Tammy Berlin, who also has put Shy in an appropriately wrinkled shift and frumpy cardigan) and backup choir, he screams about sin and corruption when he's actually scheming to increase his audience size. This may be about a brothel, but Thorpe is the biggest (attention) whore of them all.
Perhaps the best performance of the night belongs to Brian Watson, who plays local citizen C. J. Scruggs, but really lights up the stage with his rendition of "The Sidestep," which also happens to be the best song in the show and is given stage-filling choreography by Lazo. (Making use of both levels of the excellent set design by Watson, who doubles as performer and scenic designer.)
As Mona says, speaking from her decades of experience, "Men ain't all badjust 92 percent." You can almost flip that percentage here. Most (but perhaps not quite 92 percent) of this production is delightful; it's just that the unsatisfying ending sucks out of the theater all that energy and joy the cast and crew worked so hard to create.
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, through October 23, 2018, at the Gateway Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco CA. Performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:00pm, Fridays at 8:00pm, Saturdays at 6:00pm, with matinees Sundays at 3:00pm, and a Saturday matinee October 13 at 1:00pm. Tickets are $30-$75, available at 42ndStreetMoon.org, or by calling 415-255-8207, Tuesdays-Fridays 11:00am to 5:00pm.