Washington, D.C., isn't the only place overrun by Texans these days. "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" is in the second month of a forty-city tour across the country, most recently kickin' up its heels at Cincinnati's Aronoff Center on the Broadway Series. The 1978 musical has enough fringe, boots, cowboy hats, and blond wigs to mock the Lone Star state, plus its own star, Ann-Margret, to make the revival bearable.
Looking glamorous, Ann-Margret models a different gown or pants suit by designer Bob Mackie each time she sweeps onto the stage. Reportedly on the mend from a motorcycle accident that cracked a rib and a cat chase that broke a wrist, the actor moves cautiously, especially on the stairs. But the injuries don't diminish her compassion for Miss Mona, the owner of a most proper bordello. At the historic Chicken Ranch, there are no tatoos, no alcohol, and no gum.
Miss Mona's fondness for the sheriff, who is played to the swearing-angry hilt by Gary Sandy, might even make you forgot you're watching a musical that's proud to be tacky. Ann-Margret's husky yet smooth voice and her noble poise serve Miss Mona well. She can fondly flirt and she can withstand both a rabid investigative reporter and the two-faced politicians who have happily overlooked legality for decades. You could almost feel sorry for Miss Mona when she is forced to leave town. Ann-Margret paints a warm, vivid memory of Miss Mona watching President Kennedy's inauguration on a motel TV with the sheriff. But when she asks him about it, the sheriff doesn't remember the circumstances. We know he'll survive on past glories and petty incidences, and Miss Mona will gracefully move on to another chapter.
As the reporter Melvin P. Thorpe, "the Watchdog," Rob Donohoe is an annoying, righteous windbag. Imagine a late-Elvis impersonator as a televangelist, who used to be a carpet salesman. The portrayal is colorful and amusing, at least in his first scene. Donohoe maintains the possessed pitch of Watchdog's hunt throughout the show, making him a one-dimensional cartoon villain.
Thorpe's loud perseverance is a good match for Sandy's Sheriff Ed Earl. If he used his gun as often and as aggressively as he does foul language, the sheriff would be patrolling a ghost town. Sandy's portrayal navigates between the caricature style and the richer (and rarer) human beings in the production. One of the latter is Avery Sommers as Miss Mona's assistant, Jewel. In addition to responding from the heart to given situations, Sommers provides a rare, welcome example of a singer who doesn't need a mic to be heard in the rafters.
The events of "Best Little Whorehouse" revolve around not only the Watchdog's investigation but also the annual football game between rivals Texas A&M and Texas U. Members of the precision team of cheerleader types step with a dummy twin on each hip. Decked out in silver sequined halters and curly blond wigs, the puppets also sport pink balloons for cleavage and blooming behinds. "Whorehouse" predates political correctness, and you really can't take the show too seriously as far as its social qualities go. This silly dance number, "Angelette March", plants the tongue firmly in cheek. Not to be outdone, the guys get their big moment, too. There's lots of strutting of cowboy football player leg and pecs in "The Aggie Song", choreographed by Tommy Tune with assistance by Thommie Walsh (Tune's assistant for the original Broadway production, and the director of this tour version). Fresh from winning the big game, these gosh-shucks boys are ready to tackle Miss Mona's boarders.
The song that's likely to stick in your head is Carol Hall's "Hard Candy Christmas". An optimistic song for a difficult time, it expresses the dreams of tomorrow of the prostitutes, who are forced to earn a living elsewhere when the Chicken Ranch closes. The number gives us a glimpse of who these women are, beyond their lingerie and moves, just as they're leaving. If they were central to the story as individuals, the show might be more engaging than a racy cartoon.
The Hired Hand Band, led by Keith Levenson, provides the music from onstage. The seven musicians mix country twang and kick with Seventies pop-rock, Broadway punch, and a bit of gospel spirit. Their music was most infectious during the curtain call, when the entire company danced with the adrenaline that surges at the end of a show and makes theatre look like so much fun.
With a couple of big names to boost interest, the producers managed to sell a long tour of a twenty-three-year-old show that glorifies prostitution. Would they dare to launch the current Broadway show "The Full Monty" in the same cities, focusing the story on blue-collar men who are desperate enough for income that they learn to strip? Or will we have to wait until current times have become fashionably retro?Return to Home Page