The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

City Hall
October 6th - 16th 2010

This is an article from

Article published October 8. 2010 06:45AM
Raunchy good fun at the Chicken Ranch::

Fellas, fiddle music and frilly 'unmentionables' fill the stage of the City Hall Theatre in the Gilbert and Sullivan Society's latest production, 'The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas', which runs until October 16.

In true G&S style, the company of amateurs presents a production of near-professional quality, with a strong chorus and shining individual performances.

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas    The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas    The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

Nancy Thompson gives a particularly strong performance in the leading role of Miss Mona Stangley, the madam with a heart. She is able to make the somewhat improbable combination of hard-nosed businesswoman and empathetic mother-figure convincing. Mark Hamilton, in the supporting role of Sheriff Earl Dodd, provides an interesting foil for the feisty but ultimately philosophical entrepreneur whose business approach is "mass volume and repeat business like Coca-Cola and MacDonald's."

The failings are not the fault of the cast but the book and lyrics: a rather anti-climatic ending and no tunes that pass 'the old grey whistle test'.

The plot loosely follows the fate of the very real Chicken Ranch, which operated as "an illegal but tolerated brothel" for almost 70 years in the early part of the last century. Given that the plot centres on a woman who becomes rich exploiting other vulnerable women (she keeps 75 percent of their salary and makes them work six days a week), and a lawman who fails to enforce the law in return for campaign contributions, there's lots of opportunity for irony about the 'respectability' of the establishment and the hypocrisy of the Establishment. The self-serving self-righteousness of television personality Melvin P. Thorpe, ably played by Philip Jones, and his watchdogs prompts a public campaign to close the whorehouse down, leaving the girls to find alternative jobs in the big bad world and Miss Mona to retire to her ranch.

The dissatisfaction comes in the manner in which the play concludes: the girls, whose characters are never really fully developed, drift off in an aimless way; the relationship between Miss Mona and the Sheriff proves hollow and Doatsey Mae's dreams remain unfulfilled – perhaps too much like real life.

The script is delightful, full of innuendo, puns and double entendres, and Sheriff Dodd is given particularly vivid dialogue, with lots of striking imagery. In addition to some of the livelier numbers, like 'The Aggie Song', anticipating "75 miles until we get to heaven", 'Doatsey Mae', sung feelingly by Fran Griffiths, and the Sheriff's 'Good Old Girl' add elements of bitter-sweet ballad to the musical line-up. But you don't come away wanting to seek out the soundtrack to reprise any of the tunes.

The production itself is good, with care taken to create a believable Victorian ranch-style house with deep porch and white-picket fence and quick changes to the street outside a small-town courthouse and the interior of a 60s style diner. I wasn't sure, however, about the preponderance of dry ice – I hadn't realised areas of Texas were so foggy.

Choreography is crisp, and I was particularly taken with the flashlight choreography of the Watch Dog Theme, though we miss half the Angelettes' half-time number, which is a shame.

The cast is strong, and the score offers opportunity for a number of individuals to shine: Denise Whitter's Jewel has great presence in a sultry, soulful 'Twenty-four Hours of Lovin'', and Alan Brooks is able to depict two different characters convincingly. Ed Christopher, portraying the Governor who likes to dance the little sidestep, is in danger of stealing the show in the second half.

The Gilbert and Sullivan Society is to be commended for consistently bringing to the local stage the wide range of musical theatre it does; and in such a professional manner. Whatever the faults of the production, they do not lie with the cast and production crew.

Being staged at the Earl Cameron Theatre by Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Bermuda and has been receiving rave reviews and performing to standing ovations.