note: entire contents copyright 2016 by Tony Annicone
Rhode Island College Theatre Department's closing mainstage show of their season is a resounding bawdy triumph. Well, Providence has a Whorehouse in it with their musical "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" written by Larry L. King and Peter Masterson with music and lyrics by Carol Hall. This show opened on Broadway in 1978 and in 1982 became a well known movie starring Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds and featured 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 1981. While the real Chicken Ranch 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 ties to Miss Mona dating back to 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 is about how putting real life on TV changes it and shows how reality TV destroys lives. (Boy, was this show ahead of its time!) It is also about people living in glass houses throwing stones, about one group of people imposing their version of morality on others, about Texas politics and about America's preoccupation with sex. Director Bill Wilson works wonders with his 31 member cast, infuses the whole show with high energy while musical director Anthony Torelli plays lead keyboards with his fabulous ten piece orchestra with them providing the Country musical sound for the show. Choreographer Angelica Vessella provides show stopping dance numbers with tap, jazz, a kick line, soft shoe and especially the football number with clogging, two stepping and foot stomping. All these combined elements with a highly talented cast produces a fabulous evening of entertainment and most of all in these turbulent times, fun. It is definitely more energetic and well done than the Broadway version I saw back in 1979.
Leading this huge cast is Stephanie Barney as Miss Mona. She is a beautiful red head who plays the madam with a heart of gold excellently. Stephanie oozes Southern charm as she explains the rules and regulations. The opening of the show "20 Fans" is performed by Timothy Johnson with his strong vocals. Stephanie's excellent 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 number "Bus from Amarillo" about how she came to be in Gilbert, Texas, which is her best number as the tears from the audience flow profusely at its poignancy. Brava! Mary Arnold plays Miss Mona's sassy maid, Jewel. She has a phenomenal belting voice and is a wonderful actress, too. Jewel rings the cowbell when there is trouble and brings Miss Mona a gun to scare away intruders. Her booming voice sells the energetic dance number "24 Hours of Lovin'" with her scat singing while her harmonizing skills are shown in the duet with Miss Mona called "No Lies" when they are going to face trouble head on. I last reviewed Stephanie and Mary earlier in the season in "Crimes of the Heart." Joe DeLeo is terrific as the larger than life Sheriff who swears up a storm. His Southern accent is perfect and he is a hoot when he says Goddamnit when he threatens Melvin on Live TV while waving his gun and firing it several times. He has many funny one liners including how he is going to take care of Melvin by making him "roll down his socks to shit." Joe also tugs on your heartstrings in the poignant ballad, "Good Ole Gal" when he knows he has to tell Mona that she has to close down the Chicken Ranch. The harmonies of the men soar in this number.
Another over the top performance is by Joseph Sherry as Melvin P. Thorpe. He wears a gray wig and a red, white and blue suit and barks at his audience during his song "The Watch Dog Theme" with his Doggettes while waving flashlights around. He is hilarious as he leads his followers in a revival type meeting song called "Texas Has A Whorehouse in It." Joseph's tap dancing is astounding in this song and he steals many a scene as this crazed reality star of yesteryear. Remson DeJoseph is a hoot as the wishy washy Governor who loves to do "The Sidestep" to avoid taking a stand on any issues. He sounds a lot like former Governor of Texas, George W. Bush. Lauren Pothier who is a beautiful blonde is Doatsy Mae, the waitress who sings a ballad about herself, wishing she had broken out of her shell and done something glamorous with her life. She also gets a chance to tell off the men when they won't discuss the whorehouse business in front of her. Other funny roles include Victor Neto as C.J. Scruggs, Jonathan Klos as Senator Wingwah who is caught at the raid on the ranch and Salvatore Costantino III as Mayor Rufus Poindexter whose funniest line is "Dodd would screw up a two car funeral."
Another strong performer is Rebecca Poirier as Angel, who at first appears tough but reveals her softer side when she talks to her five year old on the phone. She also gets to lead the girls in the prettiest song in the show called "Hard Candy Christmas". The naive young girl and plain Jane, Shy who becomes glamorous is excellently played by Nicole Chagnon. When she goes upstairs to have the girls strip her of her plain duds, she is transformed ala Gooch in "Mame." She makes the transition with ease. Nicole also has many funny one liners which win her many laughs. Timothy Johnson also plays Edsel, the newspaper editor. The football players dance stops the show with its brilliant choreography and excellent execution. One of the strongest dancers is Ian Doran. Dark haired Ian Pedroza plays one of the football players who gets to show off his bare behind during the raid as does Alexander Crespo-Rosario who also plays a customer who chooses Shy over the other girls. Bill has the football players and the girls in various sex positions during the raid that are hilarious. One of the strongest voices in "The Aggie Song" is tenor Taylor Santoro. Kudos also to the working girls and the rest of the chorus who do marvelous work bringing this show to life with their singing and dancing skills. So for a trip back to Texas in 1981 to see how the more things change the more they stay the same, be sure to catch this topnotch musical, "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" for some marvelous entertainment. It is far superior to the Broadway show and is full of high energy that will knock your socks off. Tell them Tony sent you. Run do not walk to the box office.