The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

Music and Lyrics by Carol Hall
Book by Larry L. King and Peter Masterson
Directed by John R Leffert

Review by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2014 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

We must be grateful to John Leffert for bringing a show like this out for a run, if only so those of us who have never before seen it onstage can have something to erase the stain of the horrible film version from our memory. Aside from a delightful turn by the great Charles Durning as The Governor, it offers little pleasure and a badly miscast Burt Reynolds as Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd (original author Larry L. King had envisioned Willie Nelson in the role). But a better reason is that CenterStage has simply become the most reliable local company for such material. Nobody does musicals better.

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas may be slightly dated, but it was pleasant to discover that the book is lean and tidy, the score fairly tuneful, and the humor still effective. It’s hard to believe it was ever truly shocking (newspapers at the time were squeamish about ads with the word “whorehouse”), although finding yourself rooting for a group of women fighting to continue being prostitutes might seem conflicting to an enlightened audience. Better to enjoy the skewering of Bible-belt morality and hypocritical, spineless politicians.

The plot is a simple confrontation between the legendary “chicken ranch” brothel in fictional Gilbert, Texas, and a crusading, evangelical television reporter, Melvin P. Thorpe (Jason Cooper). The ranch has been in operation for more than a century, most recently under the tender loving administration of Miss Mona (Glenna Godsey) and the protection of Sheriff Ed Earl (Rusty Henle), but has only now come under scrutiny. Believe it or not, it’s all based on actual events that occurred in La Grange, Texas.

This cast is well-chosen, with Glenna Godsey and Rusty Henle a good pair as Mona and the Sheriff, and a scene-stealing, uproarious turn by Jason Cooper as Melvin P. Thorpe. Although the character is a muck-raking reporter, he is realized more like a television preacher, replete with a wig that features both a pompadour and a mullet (!). When he claims the second “O-mendment” as inspiration, it is a choice comic moment. John Trueblood is also a treat as The Governor, although he seems deliberately modeled on that Charles Durning performance; and Tamika MacDonald gives “Twenty-Four Hours of Lovin’” the brassy, soulful reading it deserves.

The big numbers land with aplomb through Frank Goodloe’s choreography and inventive staging by Mr. Leffert. I particularly liked the cardboard Angelette figures used to hilarious effect and the vertical-rail flats barely shielding the naughty goings on at Miss Mona’s. But the heart of the show can be found in the ballads: Jennifer Poliskie’s lovely, contemplative “Doatsy Mae”; Mr. Henle’s fine, mournful “Good Ole Girl”; and Ms. Godsey’s closing number “Bus from Amarillo.” For all of its superciliousness, in moments like these, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas manages enough humanity to ground a worthwhile connection with the audience.   

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

January 9-19, 2014

Center Stage at JCC
Linker Auditorium
3600 Dutchmans Lane
Louisville, KY 40205