AISLE SAY Twin Cities


Music and lyrics by Carol Hall
Book by Larry L. King and Peter Masterson
Starring Ann-Margaret and Gary Sandy
Choreography by Thomnite Walsh and Tommy Tune
Historic Orpheum Theatre
910 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55403/ (651)989-5151

Reviewed by Ellen Dworsky and Roxanne Sadovsky

After the "Cats" debacle, I thought I might just be done with the theater. But no, Rox wanted to mosey back to the Orpheum Theatre to see the pre-Broadway tour of "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas". OK, I thought. Maybe I'll get some tips! I need to rustle up some cash since I will soon be unemployed, and I've been thinking what it would be like to be homeless -- unwashed, naturally curly hair turning to dreadlocks, bottle of Night Train Express in my hand, pushing a shopping cart with all my worldly possessions past Sex World on Hennepin Avenue. At nearly forty, I'm beyond my prime for selling my body but hey, maybe I can be a madam. So I told Rox I'd go.

Alas, no helpful hints to be had in this glitzy musical extravaganza (Directed and choreographed by Tommie Walsh; music and lyrics by Carol Hall)-after all, it takes place in 1973 Texas. The world is a different place thirty years later and living in Minnesota sure as shootin' ain't Texas, but I was glad I went -- campiness juxtaposed with serious issues is always an intriguing combo. Maybe others thought so too because the theater was even more packed than usual. Or maybe everyone wanted to see Ann-Margaret (in her theater debut) play Miss Mona. When she strutted her sexy self out on stage and the whole dang joint erupted in "yee-haws" and applause, Rox turned to me and said, "Who's that?" Truth be told, had I not seen a billboard, I would have been as clueless as Rox. Indeed, when Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd (Gary Sandy) ambled out -- and once again everyone clapped -- neither Rox nor I recognized him. I had to take a gander at my playbill to discover he played Andy Travis on WKRP in Cincinnati. And to my surprise, my playbill also informed me that the play was a based on a true story -- Larry L. King and Peter Masterson received a Tony nomination for co-authoring "Whorehouse."

Rox: Elle, see, other people write together.
Elle: Rox, you're interrupting my intro.
Rox: And can I just say how excited I am that I understood the play this time?
Elle: I can't wait to hear your take on the story.

On the story:

Rox: So there's this whorehouse in the middle of some Texas backwater, and while the story is about what happens in the brothel, it's more about the camaraderie among women. Group therapy-the musical. The campy sex stuff -- well, you know. Sex sells. But Elle, why is it called The Chicken Ranch? Do the men have a quickie and buy a chicken while they're at it?
Elle: Weren't you listening to the explanation?
Rox: I must have missed that part.
Elle: It was in the first two minutes of the play.
Rox: Oh.
Elle: It's like this: during The Depression things were so bad, in lieu of cash, the prostitutes started accepting poultry for their services.
Rox: Um, right. Anyway, to continue, as usual, the religious right-wingers have to poke their noses where they don't belong and shut Miss Mona down. The sheriff is in the middle of the whole thing because he and Mona have been having this sort of love affair for years, but in the end, he chooses his career over love. But you know, I wasn't sold on their love story.
Elle: I was. Especially in that last scene when he comes to tell her he has to shut down the whorehouse. He's looking straight ahead-not at her-when he reaches over to pat her arm in a gesture of comfort. That's as emotionally intimate as he can be. And while she's capable of more, she takes her lead from him. She leans her head on his arm and doesn't look at him either. They just talk surface talk. I think so often things go unsaid, and their relationship was all about the unspoken.
Rox: I kind of got bored there. In fact, I tuned out a lot of dialogue, but it was so busy and full of energy that I give it a ten on the ADD satisfaction meter. I loved all the singing and dancing.

On the music:

Rox: I must have had the musical formula down because it felt like I had heard it before. I gotta get the CD.
Elle: I thought Jewel (Avery Sommers) had the best voice out of the whole cast. When she sang, "Girl You're A Woman", it reminded me of Mahalia Jackson singing "Move On Up A Little Higher."
Rox: Who? Is that the theme from "The Jeffersons?" She did that?
Elle: No Rox. Mahalia Jackson was one of the most famous gospel singers of all time.
Rox: You listen to gospel? What kind of Jew are you?
Elle: Gospel is one of my secret perversions.
Rox: Well, I thought Jewel was the stereotypical servant-caretaker, who can, oh look, also sing! But maybe the "real" Jewel was Black. Who knows?
Elle: There were only three people of color in a cast of about thirty. I noticed how White it was right away.
Rox: What? White isn't a color? Speaking of colorless, my favorite character was the down and out, white trash trailer-park waitress Flo. What a great song. Linda Lavin all the way.
Elle: More stereotypes? And now TV stereotypes? You mean Doatsey Mae (Roxie Lucas). What about Ann-Margaret?

On Ann-Margaret:

Rox: Well, my gay friends told me (and I usually take their advice) not to go see "Whorehouse" because it seemed like Ann-Margaret was playing Miss Mona on Valium compared to Dolly Parton's high-energy performance in the movie.
Elle: I thought Ann-Margaret was good.
Rox: Me too. Maybe gay men expect "all fabulous, all the time," but I liked her as the archetypal low-strung mother figure. She was kind of like Bette Davis meets Mrs. Garrett.

On the dancing:

Elle: Loved it. Especially "The Aggie Song" and dance routine-the one with all the sexy football players.
Rox: Do you think they're all gay? You know: Celtic meets swing and turns into the best little hora in Texas! Straight men can't dance all that.
Elle: They weren't doing the hora.
Rox: But they were all gay.
Elle: Jesus, Rox. Do you think there's some divine dance gene that only gay men get?
Rox: Yes.
Elle: Well those dancing men were my favorites, aside from Jewel.
Rox: I was drooling over that gay cowboy flesh. Straight men aren't that limber.
Elle: You haven't slept with my ex-lover. Anyway,
Tommy Tune choreographed that dance, which is why it's so good.
Rox: And could he dare to be straight with a last name like Tune?
Elle: My ex's last name is similar.
Rox: Is he gay?
Elle: Not by a long shot, Rox.

On the female cast members:

Rox: Weren't those women just hotties? I was lapping them up with my mind. Even a little bit sexually. Isn't that weird?
Elle: Not a very realistic portrait of prostitution.
Rox: Geez, Elle. You take things so seriously.
Elle: Prostitution is a serious issue. I wonder what would have to happen in order for a woman sell her body for cash.
Rox: Didn't you say you would do it for the money if you weren't too old for it?
Elle: I was kidding. See, I don't take everything too seriously. But listen, Shy (Jen Celene Little) turns to prostitution when her daddy gets "sweet" (as Miss Mona calls it) on her.
Rox: That's true but in this play it feels more like a support network of women that just happens to coincide with them being prostitutes.

On the second half:

Rox: When intermission came the energy was like this huge inflated beach ball that we were waiting to see grow bigger, then pop. But when the second half started, it had already deflated.
Elle: But the last scene with Miss Mona and the Sheriff was good. In fact, that was the only spot in the play where I could tolerate him.
Rox: What's wrong with you? The Sheriff was hilarious. The whole ding-dang thing was hilarious.

On the ending:

Rox: Where did they go after they got kicked out?
Elle: They sort of said where they were going in that "Hard Candy Christmas" song.
Rox: It wasn't called "Four Color Christmas?"
Elle: No, Rox. I thought the ending was a little weak. The Sheriff makes the "all rise" motion like a Rabbi -- I felt like I was in synagogue -- everyone on stage sings and dances a little more, and that's the end.

On should you go:

Rox: Despite the second half-which was short, I really like it.
Elle: Better than "Fiddler On The Roof"?
Rox: That's like comparing matzoh to communion wafers. They're both good.
Elle: Do you really want to eat Jesus?
Rox: What?
Elle: Body of Christ.
Rox: What kind of Jew are you? How do you know about all this Christian stuff? So does this mean eating matzoh is like eating Moses?
Elle: Oy vey.
Rox: Anyhow, don't listen to your gay friends. Go see it.

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