In the spirit of the rousing production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas now being performed at Arlington, Virginia's Signature Theatre, this here review would develop a Texas twang thicker than a Longhorn's prime rib. For a good time, come on down to the Chicken Ranch. Just leave the kiddies at home. Not for nothing is Signature Theatre emphasizing the word Whorehouse in all of its advertising.
This is a well crafted revival of this late 1970's crowd-pleaser The dancers heartily stomp Karma Camp's choreography. The deep bordello red of Collin Ranney's set perfectly frames the story. Kathleen Geldard's fanciful costumes evoke a storytelling quality, from the stereotypical cowboy fringe of Melvin P. Thorpe and his Dogettes, to the sensuous lingerie and fall away prom gowns worn by Miss Mona's girls. Eric Schaeffer who shapes both the high comedy and the deep melodrama of this musical has thoughtfully directed the entire production.
If there is any flaw in this musical it comes from the play itself, only briefly hinting on the dark side of prostitution lest it interfere with the overall message of an intolerant minority shutting down a local institution, no matter how possibly troubling said institution may actually be. That and a change in tone in the second act which leads to an ending that peters out rather than going out with a bang.
For this is the tale of the Chicken Ranch. A wholesome house of I'll repute operating in Texas for more than a century. The owner, Miss Mona Stangley gives generously to local causes and hosts the annual end of season reward for the Texas A & M Aggies football team. When local radio personality and self appointed morality police Melvin P. Thorpe decides to crusade against the Chicken Ranch the local and state politicians are forced to stop patronizing the Chicken Ranch and close it down.
Christopher Bloch makes a terrific villain as Melvin P. Thorpe, embracing his single minded crusade whilst wearing a completely ridiculous ensemble. Tracy Lynn Olivera brings a weary wisdom as the long suffering waitress Doatsy Mae slinging hash and zingers and singing well the song that shares her name. Nova Y. Payton's Jewel raises the roof in Twenty Four Hours of Lovin'. It is a shame that she only has the one solo, but as has been mentioned in other reviews she is slated to portray Effie in the upcoming production of Dreamgirls to which we all look forward to with excitement. Thomas Adrian Simpson's Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd may not be the hero that Miss Mona requires but he still comes across as a decent man forced to follow the letter of the law rather than do what he feels is right.
Second in importance only to Miss Mona herself are the talented young men and women who make up Miss Mona's Girls, The Doggettes and The Aggie Boys. Signature Theatre has managed to find an incredibly talented ensemble of singers and dancers who raise the roof off of The Max stage. The ensemble includes the choreographer’s daughter Brianne Camp who is also credited as Associate Choreographer.
As for the proprietor of the Chicken Ranch, Miss Mona Stangley? The amazing Sherri L. Edelen brings her to vivid life. Ms. Edelen is the fierce mother hen, protector of her girls and upholder of her standards. She fights hard for her girls and her business, while holding a torch for the Sheriff. She'll bring you joy in A Lil' Ole Bitty Country Place and a few tears in Bus From Amarillo. Mostly she'll turn on the charm so that you just might want to extend your stay in The Best Little Whorehouse a little while longer.
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas will be performed in The Max theater at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia through October 7, 2012. For tickets and other performance information please visit www.signature-theatre.org.