Published: May 12, 2008
Its storyline practically guarantees the fun: A whorehouse in Texas, circa 1976, is about to be shut down through no fault of some of its own customers: a governor, a senator and longtime friend, Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd.
Affectionately called the Chicken Ranch, this particular establishment is also where most of the action unfolds in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, a musical being put on by the Winston-Salem Theatre Alliance that opened Friday night.
Best Little Whorehouse is a big-number production with snappy choreography and a large cast, most notably 15 or so prostitutes, their madam, some townspeople, various politicians, local choristers, the Texas Aggies football team and — at the center of the storm — troublemaker Melvin P. Thorpe, a flamboyant TV personality who is determined to shut down the Chicken Ranch and fulfill his destiny as "watchdog" for the local TV market.
According to the show’s own admission, this whorehouse had been around for more than a century. Now, Miss Mona (a former prostitute and current madam) has inherited it, and people can remember the days when the "ladies" began accepting poultry for payment, "one bird, one lay."
And so the evening goes: Ribald language, profane language, partial nudity and some very suggestive vignettes of coupling in the chicken house. Laughs and live music also spark Best Little Whorehouse, even though the pacing is sometimes slow on a show that’s known for its spitfire and rapid delivery.
This show opened on Broadway in 1978 with choreography by Tommy Tune. Its book by Larry L. King and Peter Masterson with music and lyrics by Carol Hall went on to garner multiple Tony nominations and won Drama Desk awards for music and lyrics.
In Theatre Alliance’s show, the music can fill the house at times, with two numbers in particular. One is a solo in which Jaye Pierce plays a gum-snapping waitress named Doatsey Mae who wishes she’d had a more exciting life. When she sings a hauntingly beautiful ballad, "Doatsey Mae," we also wish she’d not been quite so respectable.
At the other end of the musical spectrum is one of the show’s best big-ticket numbers. "The Aggie Song" is a robust, full-bodied press from a chorus of football players getting ready to visit the Chicken Ranch, their prize for winning the Thanksgiving game earlier that day. It’s pure fun, and director Jamie Lawrence [sic] successfully pulls in other cast members to deliver the song’s punch — raunchy athletes and prostitutes dressed in long satin gowns and corsages.
Two standout roles include the Sheriff played by Mikey Wiseman and the TV anchorman played by Gray Smith. Smith is never at a loss when taking center stage, as he frequently does at Theatre Alliance productions, and Wiseman, last seen in The Little Theatre’s production of The Foreigner, has another hit with his role as Ed Earl.
Best Little Whorehouse is a good-time ending for the Theatre Alliance’s season and its home at SECCA. A new home is expected to be announced in the fall.
■ The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas presented by the Winston-Salem Theatre Alliance continues Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and May 18 at 2 p.m. at SECCA, 750 Marguerite Drive, Winston-Salem. Tickets are $14 for adults; seniors and students, $12. For more information, call 768-5655.