The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas from TUTS: A Home-Grown Musical with Verve and Charm

Categories: Stage

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Photo by Bruce Bennett
TV reporter Melvin P. Thorpe (Michael Tapley) leads the chorus.
See our interview with John Holly, the former executive producer of Theatre Under the Stars, who has returned to Houston to play the cameo role of the governor -- the same part he played 22 years ago, and our interview with Michael Tapley, who has played Melvin P. Thorne all over America.

The setup:

A Theatre Under the Stars revival of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, the 1978 rollicking Broadway musical about the famed Texas "Chicken Ranch" rides into town with flags unfurled and spirits high.

The execution:

Subtlety is thrown under the bus as broad humor and one-dimensional characters strut their stuff with engaging charm and direct appeal to our funny bone. The book is a single-minded appeal to a nostalgic view of rural Texas, where Houston can be slighted as "citified," and a crusading television newscaster sets the tone for the evening's proceedings.

Michael Tapley portrays investigative reporter Melvin P. Thorpe, modeled on Houston's late Marvin Zindler, and many of Zindler's trademark slogans echo from the stage, to instant recognition and appreciative laughter from the audience. Tapley necessarily plays the role over-the-top, and the initially abrasive characterization segues into rich humor in Act II as he uses insistent volume to interrupt and intimidate the Texas governor, played by John Holly, who brings the house down with a reference to a recent gubernatorial gaffe.

The leading character -- among many in a large cast -- is Miss Mona, owner of the rural brothel, played by Michelle DeJean, and she is excellent, holding center stage with consummate poise and easy command, and creating a warm, interesting individual. Kevin Cooney plays Sheriff Dodd, and he is compelling, making the conflict between law and common sense seem realistic. He is Miss Mona's love interest, though she seems a generation younger. Tamara Siler plays the ranch's housekeeper, Jewel, literally a gem with her energy and style kicking a flat joke into the rafters of hilarity with body language. She can dance up a storm, and her talents and powerful melodic voice are showcased in "Twenty-Four Hours of Loving," easily the wittiest and best number of the evening.

At the other end, "Texas Has a Whorehouse in It" is severely handicapped by lyrics that don't stray far from the tedious title. Miss Mona's solo "Bus from Amarillo" is touching, and comes as close to poignant as this comedic jaunt cares to get. "Hard Candy Christmas" in Act II lets a number of the female "employees" of the ranch show their vocal ability. We get to know Amber and Shy best; Julia Krohn as Amber gives us a Dolly Parton persona and carries it off, and Brooke Wilson as Shy delights with superb and deliberately awkward body language.

The choreography by Angie Wheeler is energetic without being inspiring, but there is a wonderful dance in Act I as six cheerleaders create the illusion of 18 - it is inventive and huge fun to watch. There is a male chorus of Aggie football players, and they are handsome and stalwart, but they are peripheral to the doings at the ranch-in-crisis, as forces of conventionality threaten to shut it down.

Roger Allan Raby directed and keeps the pace frenetic, and a bit calmer when required; he captures the driving energy of Texas, living up to the embellishments of the Lone Star Flags that intermittently adorn the stage, garnering the expected applause. The six-piece band is situated nicely to the central rear of the stage, shadowed by a second-level playing area, and is appropriately unobtrusive but wonderful. The set by Marjorie Kellogg is simple but serves well, and the costumes by Ray Delle Robbins are entertaining -- one contains an amusing surprise. The book is by Larry L. King and Peter Masterson, and the music and lyrics are by Carol Hall.

The verdict:

Talented performers, engaging music and a brisk comedic script take us back to a simpler time in Texas, as a home-grown musical returns home with verve and charm, guaranteeing an enjoyable evening.

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas continues through June 17 at The Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For information or ticketing, call 713-558-2600 or visit the TUTS Web site. Tickets start at $24.

Location Info

Map

Hobby Center for the Performing Arts

800 Bagby St., Houston, TX

Category: Music

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2 comments
Kensboy7
Kensboy7

just for clarification...the "floozie drill" was a part of the original choreo for B'way and national tours, and like the prop-heavy inspirations of the more modern Susan Stroman, an early trademark for original dance creator Tommy Tune. Having not seen the Tower version but enjoying the Caruso one immensely (not incidentally directed by Michael Tapley, who plays Melvin in this version)...can't speak to the dance's inclusion at the Tower but the limited space at Caruso might have made the sequence more of a challenge than an addition. 

Ms Marilyn Lewis
Ms Marilyn Lewis

This production is nothing compared to the original show at the Tower Theatre in Houston, and the later performance at the Great Caruso. Too much "updating" takes the story out of its 1973 era, and the addition of the pre-show narrative and the floozie drill team is just a test of how much the audience is willing to endure so they can enjoy what's left of the original show.

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