Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2009 by Tony Annicone

"The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The third show of Turtle Lane Playhouse's 32nd season is "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" which tells the true story of the high-profile closing of the 130 year old brothel outside the small town of La Grange, Texas in 1973 and became a Broadway musical in 1978 and later on in 1982 a well-known movie starring Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds and the movie featured her famous song, "I Will Always Love You.". While the real chicken ranch was run by Edna Mae Milton, the story of this show centers on Miss Mona Stangley whose Chicken Ranch is under fire by right-wing groups led by television crusader Melvin P. Thorpe. An-anything-to-be-re-elected Governor wavers back and forth on the issues while paying a visit to the brothel after the football game victory on Thanksgiving. Ed Earl Dodd, the constantly swearing, pistol packing, sheriff who has romantic attachments to Miss Mona, dating back to 1961 inauguration of John F. Kennedy, tries to valiantly make all the combatants leave well enough alone. Meanwhile, Miss Mona's ladies entertain customers including the Governor and some members of the football team. Director James Tallach casts the best people for these roles, infusing it with high energy and blends the elements of theatre and television to create this show. He uses an ingenious black and white news reel style film to describe how the Chicken ranch came into existence which is narrated by the Governor during the "20 Fan's" number and stars Annita Brockney as Miss Wulla Jean with the film blending into the colorful whorehouse on stage with Miss Mona finishing the song. Who knew 30 years after the show opened how reality TV has taken over the airwaves and in this case ruined the lives of people along the way by its viciousness and disregard for others. It is about one group of people imposing their version of morality on others which is what this country has endured for the past eight years. Although the show is mostly comic, there are touching moments in it that will tug at your heartstrings but on a cold night in February and March, it is the humor that will keep you entertained all night long and the happy ending James provides, letting you know what happens to Miss Mona..

James is aided in his huge task by music director Adam MacDonald who conducts the 5 piece orchestra while playing keyboards. Even though he is young in age and will be graduating with a masters degree from Boston Conservatory this spring, Adam has a keen ear to bring out the harmonies of the songs via the performers as well as having the saxophone player do excellent solo work during some of the country songs. in the show. Karen Fogerty who I saw a couple of year's ago playing Lina Lamont in "Singing in the Rain", choreographs the show beautifully from the sexy girls dances with kick-line, jazz and strutting to the Melvin dancers and the pelvic thrusting football players number, "The Aggie Song" at the end of the first act. She obtains a high quality of dancing from her cast members while they achieve it wonderfully. The sets for the show are created by newly-wed John MacKenzie who also did the lighting design. Most impressive is the huge two story chicken ranch set painted a bright red, with two long staircases on each side, four doors upstairs as well as two playing area on each side in front of the proscenium with the Sheriff's office on stage right and the restaurant on stage left. John also uses three slide projectors from the 1970's to show the courthouse steps and various other outdoor settings. The multitude of country costumes are by Richard Itczak who not only designs them but makes them, too. This large cast is lead by Rebecca Shor, who recently relocated to her hometown of Boston from the Chicago area where she starred as Mrs. Lovett in "Sweney Todd", the Baker's wife in "Into the Woods" and Barbara in "Major Barbara". She plays Miss Mona, the madam with a heart of gold perfectly. Rebecca gets to show off her strong singing voice in several numbers in the show including "20 Fans", "A Lil' Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place" where she and the other girls explain the rules and regulations to the two new girls, Angel and Shy, "Girl, You're a Woman" which is a touching ballad where she encourages Shy to grow up and face reality and the closing song "Bus from Amarillo'' which is her best number, leaves the audience in tears but James supplies a happy ending with Earl returning to the ranch, taking Mona in his arms for a lingering romantic and uplifting kiss. Welcome back to Boston! Her sassy maid, Jewel is well played by Leeta White who rings the cowbell at the first sign of trouble and brings out the huge shotgun for Mona to scare off any intruders. Her booming voice sells the fantastic energetic dance number "Twenty-Four Hours of Lovin" with her not only scat singing but dancing with girls while the sax plays splendidly in the background. Leeta's harmonizing skills are shown in the duet with Rebecca called "No Lies". David DaCosta, a terrific dramatic actor in Shakespearean roles, shows off his comic side as the larger-than-life Sheriff who swears up a storm with his many funny one liners especially when he threatens Melvin in front of a live TV camera and gets to show off his excellent baritone voice in the touching ballad, "Good Old Girl" where he finally admits his soft spot for Mona.

Another over-the-top performance is by David Giagrando as the reality TV star who brings down the whorehouse with his Doggette followers. He is hilarious as he chases after his prey with TV camera blazing. His powerful voice leads his chorus in "Watchdog Theme" and "Texas Has A Whorehouse in It" which is a revival meeting type song. One of the most hilarious moments is when his stage manager tightens a corset he is wearing underneath his sweater while live on TV. Harry Rothman is excellent as the clueless, wishy-washy Governor who love to do "The Sidestep" song and dance to avoid taking a position on any issue which you would swear is based on George W. Bush but since the show was written in 1978, it just shows that history is cyclical in nature. Harry also sings and dances as well as swilling beer with the football players in the energetic pelvic thrusting "Aggie Song". Angela Foley is topnotch as Doatsey Mae, the waitress who has a secret crush on the Sheriff. She sings a beautiful ballad about herself where she wishes she could be more colorful like the girls at the Chicken ranch and gets a chance to tell the men off in Act 2 where they don't want to discuss the whorehouse while she is in the office. Other funny roles include Neal Murphy as CJ, (he also plays a nude football player in the shower) Steve Phillips as the Mayor who holds the newspaper upside down to avoid talking to the Sheriff in the restaurant and Cliff Blake as Edsel, the newspaper editor. Another excellent performer is Katie Rolph as Angel. She first appears clad in blond wig which Miss Mona rips off her head, revealing her gorgeous strawberry blond hair. Angel appears tough at first but reveals her softer side during a telephone conversation with her five year old son. Katie gets to lead the girls in the prettiest song in the show called "Hard Candy Christmas" where they all are thrown out of the whorehouse by the Governor's orders. Kim Misci who is a NSMT education teacher does a great job as Shy, the new naive girl in the brothel who blossoms after she is picked by a shy customer, Gary Ryan. Gary who I review as Pippin in "Pippin" and in "Secret Garden'' is one of the dancing football players as is Donald Gregorio who is a hoot as the foreign football player (he is an excellent dancer who I reviewed in "Miss Saigon" and a fantastic choreographer who I reviewed in "Full Monty") and also hilarious is Paulo Piselli as football player who shows his tightie whities to the cheering audience. All the girls do fabulous work as the prostitutes and in various roles in the show. So for a trip back to 1973 to see how reality TV was a nuisance even back then, be sure to catch this wonderful rendition of "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" at Turtle Lane Playhouse.

THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS ( 13 February to 15 March, 2009)
Turtle Lane Playhouse, 283 Melrose Street, Newton,MA
1 (617) 244-0169 or

"The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" (13 February - 15 March)
283 Melrose Street, NEWTON MA
1 (617) 244-0169

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide