The current show at Foothills Theatre in Worcester is a bawdy triumph for this once struggling theatre who wasn't sure it would be able to continue the rest of its season. Well, Worcester has a Whorehouse in it and if this show is an example of their talent both performers and staff's hard work shines through then this theatre will continue to flourish as it should. Their show is "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" written by Larry L. King and Peter Masterson with music and lyrics by Carol Hall which opened on Broadway in 1978, became a well known movie starring Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds in 1982 featuring her popular song "I Will Always Love You." This exuberant musical tells the true story of the high-profile closing of a 130 year old brothel in Gilbert, a small town in Texas in 1973. While the real Chicken Ranch brothel was run by Edna Mae Hilton, the story of this show centers on Miss Mona whose Chicken Ranch is under fire by right-wing groups led by television crusader Melvin P. Thorpe and an-anything-to-get- re-elected Governor. Ed Earl Dodd, the constantly swearing, pistol toting county sheriff has romantic attachments to Miss Mona dating back to Kennedy's inauguration in 1961, tries valiantly to get the combatants to leave well enough alone. Meanwhile, Miss Mona's ladies entertain customers including a Senator and the Aggie football team. The show at its most basic is about how putting life on TV changes it and how the TV camera impacts that which it records. Lives are ruined by reality TV. It is also about people in glass houses throwing stones, about one group of people imposing their version of morality on others, about Texas politics and America's preoccupation with sex. Director/choreographer Russell Garrett not only works wonders with his 18 member cast but also appears in the show wearing a blond Glen Campbell type wig and dancing and singing up a storm while doing so. He infuses the whole show with high energy while music director Fred Frabotta plays the keyboards with Elaina Ringwald on the violin (This instrument brings tears to your eyes during the ballads and with her expert playing.) providing the Country Musical sound for the show appearing onstage behind the working girls and their clients. The numerous dance numbers by Russell are show stoppers with girls sexy dance numbers with tap, jazz and a kick line and especially the football players song "The Aggie Song" with clogging, tap and foot stomping. All these elements combined together plus a highly talented cast produce a fabulous evening of entertainment and most of all in these trying times, fun!
Russell is aided in his undertaking by Barbara Craig who designed the bandstand type of set with four openings in it that can be covered by flimsy peach colored drapes which are translucent so you can see the people behind them as well as circular stairs on stage right of it. Platforms for the girls are in it with a restaurant booth on stage left, an archway on stage right with room outside it for the singers to perform their perfect harmonies. The counter top for the restaurant is easily brought onstage as is an office desk for the sheriff and a gigantic pouffe for all the girls to pose on. The multitude of colorful costumes are by Kurt Hultgren including light blue jackets, white pants, red ties for the Doggettes, cowboy shirts for the boys and sexy lingerie for the girls while the lighting is by Matt Guminski who has fans turning onstage when they aren't really there. He also bathes the stage in soft pink lighting to give it a romantic feel to it during the girls scenes and strong lighting during the football scene. The sound is wonderfully handled by Ed Thurber. The boys and girls of the cast greet the audience as they enter the theatre, teaching them how to "Yahoo!". The huge cast is lead by Shannon Lee Jones, a beautiful brunette with gorgeous sparkling blue eyes, who lives in Cambridge with her husband. She plays Miss Mona, the madam with a heart of gold fantastically. Shannon oozes Southern charm as she explains the rules and regulations. (The soothing, topnotch voice of Patrick Dorow leads the "20 Fans" number which opens the show.) Her strong singing voice sells many of the songs including "A Lil' Ole Pissant Country Place" where she and the other girls explain things to the two new girls, Angel and Shy. "Girl Your a Woman", a touching ballad where she encourages Shy to grow up and face reality and the closing song "Bus from Amarillo" about how she came to be in Gilbert, Texas, which is Shannon's best number as the audience tears fall at its poignancy. Brava! The diminutive Dee Crawford plays Mona's sassy black maid, Jewel. She may be small in stature but her voice is HUGE and wonderful as is her acting. Jewel rings the cowbell when there is trouble and brings Miss Mona a shotgun to scare away the intruders. Her booming voice sells the energetic dance number "24 Hours of Lovin" with her scat singing and her harmonizing skills are shown in the duet with Shannon called "No Lies" where they are going to face trouble head on. Veteran actor Jerry Bisantz, who runs his own theatre company in Lowell, MA and whose 20 year old son, Max attends NYU and will be studying the role of Prior in "Angels in America", is terrific as the larger-than-life Sheriff who swears up a storm. His use of fucking this and Goddamnit is a hoot especially when he threatens Melvin in front of a live TV camera. Jerry gets to tug at the heartstrings in the touching ballad, "Good Old Girl" when he knows he has to tell Mona to close down the Chicken Ranch. (The boys harmonies soar during this number.)
Another over the top performance is given by Russell Garrett as Melvin who wears a blue suit and barks at his audience, does, "The Watch Dog Theme ", a song and dance with his Doggettes while waving flashlights around.(Patrick Dorow, Jeremy Towle, Mark Linehan and Nick Pecairo are his followers.) His hilarious as he leads his followers in a revival type meeting song called "Texas Has a Whorehouse in It". Peter Adams is a hoot as the clueless, wishy-washy Governor who loves to do "The Sidestep" to avoid taking a stand on any issue. (He sounds just like our former president W who was a governor of Texas.) Peter also plays CJ Scruggs. Merrill Peiffer, a beautiful blonde who I last saw in "As Bees in Honey Drown" at Foothills, plays Doatsy Mae the waitress who sings a lovely ballad about herself, wishing she had broken out of her shell and done something glamorous with her life and has a chance to tell off the men off when they won't discuss the whorehouse business in front of her. (She also gets to play Durla one of the girls so she shows off her dancing ability, too.) Other funny roles include Senator Wingwah who is caught in the raid at the ranch and Mayor Rufus which are both well played by Bill Taylor who as the mayor utters the funny one liner "Dodd would fuck up a two car funeral." Another good performer is Cheryl Turski as Angel who at first appears tough but reveals her softer side when she talks to her 5 year old son on the phone. She gets to lead the girls in the prettiest song in the show called "Hard Candy Christmas".The naive young girl and a plain Jane, Shy who becomes glamorous is excellently played by Alisha Walker. When she goes upstairs to have the girls strip her of her plain duds, she transforms like Gooch in Mame.Mark Linehan who sings tenor in the Aggie number also plays Edsel, the newspaper editor. Scott Larsen plays one of the beefy football players who gets to show off his red bikini underwear during the raid while Timothy Stokel plays a customer who chooses Shy over the other girls. Jeremy Towle plays the foreign football player who is anxious to have sex after winning the game. Rounding out the cast as the working girls are Abby Chase, Casey Connolly, Paula Hackett, Molly Prout and Haley Roth who do fantastic work bringing this show to life with their singing and dancing skills.So for a trip back to Texas in 1973 to see how the more things change the more they stay the same, be sure to catch this fabulous show nearby in Worcester, MA, to see "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" for outstanding singing, dancing and acting. Tell them Tony sent you.