In 1978, Broadway audiences were delighted to discover “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” a musical destination that played there for more than 1,500 performances and is receiving a high-powered revival at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, Mich.,
The fact-based story, which somehow seems even more relevant today, features a tough-but-tender madam, a hot-headed sheriff, a spotlight-seeking TV reporter, a shifty governor, several self-serving politicians, and a lot of hard working girls and their eager “guests” of all ages.
Written by Carol Hall, Larry L. King and Peter Masterson, the score features toe-tapping ensemble numbers, comedic solo spots and heart-touching ballads, all of which are delivered with the requisite attitudes by the talented (and hard-working) cast.
The “owner-operator” of the famous Chicken Ranch — so-called because Depression era guests paid with poultry — is Miss Mona, played by Barn veteran Penelope Alex who seems to get better with each season. A strict employer who requires adherence to an unbreakable set of rules (“A Lil’ Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place”), she nevertheless has “been there, done that” and consequently empathizes with her girls. Her final “Bus From Amarillo” brings everything poignantly full circle.
Miss Mona’s sometime lover and longtime friend, Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd, is in the capable hands of guest star Robert Newman. He takes full advantage of the lawman’s penchant for x-rated language , hair-trigger temper and lack of self-control to express himself vigorously, especially when confronting hypocritical politicians. His feelings for the “Good Old Girl” are obvious, even without words.
Turning the spotlight on Miss Mona and her enterprise is publicity-seeking TV Watch Dog Melvin P. Thorpe, delivered with obvious enjoyment by another Barn vet, the always excellent Eric Parker. Leading his flashlight-carrying Dogettes, he stirs the tempest in the chili pot until there is nowhere to hide.
Vacillating with a flourish is the now-you-see-him, now-you-don’t Governor of Texas, a wonderfully hilarious Bruce Hammond, who offers some slippery tips on doing “The Sidestep.”
Shinnerrie Jackson is Jewel, who looks after Miss Mona and her girls but breaks out long enough to stop the show en route to “24 Hours of Lovin’.”
The newest additions to Miss Mona’s entourage are Angel (Melissa Cotton), already a veteran, and Shy (Briana Biffath), a definite newcomer. Both are welcomed by the girls, who also double as reporters, townspeople, Melvin P. Thorpe Singers and Texas Aggie Angelettes.
The last finds Hannah Eakin, Bethany Edlund and Lindsay Maron with Anna Segatti as gravity-defying Imogene Charlene Greene, plus eight supplemental Angelettes, cheering on the team in one of the show’s funniest segments.
There are more than a few show-stopping numbers in “Whorehouse,” not the least of these being “The Aggie Song,” which ends Act One with the winning college football team heading out of the locker room and onto the bus to “heaven,” aka the Chicken Ranch. Led by choreographer Jamey Grisham, the Aggies (who also double throughout) “romp and stomp” in a high-powered routine that absolutely deserved the extended cheers it received.
Director Hans Fredrichs keeps the pace exactly as it should be, from fast and furious to slow and serious.
Portraying town officials are Charlie King, Nicholas Fuqua (both also in the on-stage band) and Kevin Robert White, with Patrick Hunter as a senator who gets caught — literally — with his pants down.
Staying behind the counter is Doatsey Mae (Eli Brickey), a waitress who shares her dreams in one of the quieter moments.
Guitarist King also serves as narrator but unfortunately most of his dialogue is unintelligible. Poor balance between himself and the too-loud band is part of the problem but this also made it difficult, early on, to hear the singers.
Whatever the minor, correctable flaws, The Barn’s “Whorehouse” is most definitely the place to visit for a truly fun-filled evening.
You don’t even have to take a chicken!
“THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS” plays through July 6 in the theater on M96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For show times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121 or visit www.barntheatre.com.