Æ Review – The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas

October 28, 2010 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩

Church Hill Theatre
Review by Thom Dibdin

Great musicality and strong staging mark out the production of the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas from local amateur company Allegro, running at the Church Hill Theatre all week.

As you might expect from the title, a certain amount of raunchiness occurs on stage. The working girls of Miss Mona’s establishment, which gives the musical its name, spending much of the production in their scanty particulars.

David Grimes, Governor of Texas, doing the Side Step

They are rather more particular than they are scanty, it must be said. It looks like the fashion show for an upmarket lingerie shop: all suggestion, emphasis and lacy bits, rather than revelation and removal. If Katy Perry had been sporting such an outfit on Sesame Street, she would have had no problem with the moral outrage.

Of course moral outrage is what the musical is all about. Real life outrage that a ranch in Texas could have been operating as a brothel for some 150 years, with the local law enforcement turning a blind eye. Pious outrage whipped up by crusading Houston radio reporter Marvin Zindler which forced the so-called Chicken Ranch to close in 1973.

The show transfers the ranch to the fictional town of Gilbert and transforms Zindler into Melvin P. Thorpe, a TV reporter on crusading programme Watchdog. Stepping quickly over the whys and wherefores of prostitution, the show’s own morality falls in with those who believe that if it is going to happen, then it should happen in a place that is as non-exploitative as possible.

So it is that hardened street-girl Angel (Gina Muego) and young girl Shy (Nicole Watt) who has been sexually abused by her father, turn up at Miss Mona’s establishment just before Thanksgiving. They are taken in, and Miss Mona informs them of her big no-nos – kissing, alcohol, drugs and pimps.

“rather more lead in its pencil”

The full cast in the finale of Allegro’s production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas – Church Hill Theatre October 2010

All this is detailed in a performance of A Lil Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place which needs rather more lead in its pencil. It’s pleasing to look at in terms of Alison Scott’s choreography and it sounds nice enough, but there’s no real attack there, none of the bite which the song asks for.

Even when the excellent Alexandra Junginger as Jewel, the maid at the Chicken Ranch, launches into 24 Hours of Loving – telling the working girls in no uncertain terms what she will be doing on her day off, it is all rather sedate.

When the call is for characterisation, a poignant moment, a big ballad or a well-balanced tableaux, however, the production come up trumps.

Both Muego and Watt create real characters in the opening scenes, and as Mel Sherwood as Miss Mona launches into into Girl, Your A Woman, the full depth of her voice – missing in A Lil Ole Bitty – suddenly becomes apparent. Here, with a big dollop of sentimentality, is its breadth and warmth.

Lech Boron is hugely camp as Melvin P Thorpe, sporting a quite hideous Jimmy Savile wig. There is some imaginative yet simple choreography for his Dogettes and singers, that all works up into strong tableaux and an easy telling of the plot.

It takes the arrival of Peter Tomassi as Sheriff Ed Earl, however, to kick the whole production into gear. His breaking up of a rally on the Gilbert Town Hall steps, live on TV, is a real explosion of emotion of a kind that is missing elsewhere in the first half – even in the Texas Aggies.

The tone of the second half converges much more easily with the performances on stage. David Grimes as the Governor of Texas puts in an excellent and smooth performance of The Side Step, as he glosses over hard political questions with the glib tongue of a seasoned politician.

Tomassi and Sherwood work up some big poignant moments towards the end, while the show’s moral points on the reality of prostitution are slipped quietly in.

If this ends up feeling slightly more like the Nicest Wee Massage Parlour in Morningside than the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, it is a big and compelling production which knows full well that just because design or choreography is simple, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t very effective. Great stuff.

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas runs at the Church Hill Theatre, Morningside Road, Tuesday 26th – Saturday 30th October 2010 at 7.30pm with a Saturday matinee at 2.30pm. Tickets are £10.00 (matinee) and £12.50.

Contact 07526 718676 for ticket details.
Tickets are also available here, through Ticket Scotland

Allegro Website

ENDS

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