THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS
by Carol Hall, Larry L. King, and Peter Masterson
Director — Steven D. Morris
Musical Director — Mark Dennis Miller
Choreographer — Lori Woods Blondin
Set Designer — Kevin Brown
Lighting Designer — Bryan Stevenson
Sound Designer — Bill Eickenloff
Costume Designer — Karen Murk Potter
Properties Designer — Robin Dotson
Stage Manager — Rebecca Rickey
Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd — Robert Reed
Angel — Aly Badalamenti
Shy — Donovan Marie Lawson
Jewel — Ken’Ja L. Brown
Miss Mona Stangley — Mary Gilbreath Grim
Durla — Callie Cunningham
Ruby Rae — Hannah Bell
Beatrice — Amy Arevalo
Eloise — Bria Huckaby
Dawn — Kylie Reynolds Thornton
Taddy Jo/Imogene Charlene — Alexandra Koeneke Neary
Melvin P. Thorpe — Micah Green
Dogette/Miss Wulla Jean — Nancy Lamb
Dogette/ Edsel — George Sepulveda III
Dogette/Aggie — Alfredo Tamayo
Dogette/Ensemble — Christine Chambers
Doatsey Mae — Patrice Tilley
Mayor Rufus Poindexter — Eric Helsel
C.J. Scrugs — A. Soloman Abah Jr.
Senator Wingwoah — Michael Green
Aggie/Ensemble — Trey Cardona
Aggie/Ensemble — Layne Hill
Aggie/Ensemble — Michael McCrary
Aggie/Ensemble — Tyrell Washington
Aggie/Ensemble — Moises Zamora
Governor — Daniel Hernandez *
* At the reviewed performance, this role was played by Steven D. Morris.
Reviewed Performance: 9/20/2019
Reviewed by Carol M. Rice, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas ran on Broadway for 1,584 performances, opening on June 19, 1978. It was made into a film by the same name in 1982 starring Dolly Parton, Burt Reynolds, Charles Durning, and Dom DeLuise. Durning was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as the Texas governor, and the film received Golden Globe nominations for Best Motion Picture (Comedy or Musical) and Best Actress in a Motion Picture (Comedy or Musical) for Parton. The film version is much more of a “star vehicle” for Parton and Reynolds than the stage version, which actually is pretty faithful in its portrayal of the events surrounding the closing of the chicken ranch.
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas takes place in the late 1970s in Gilbert, Texas (subbing for the actual locale of La Grange), where a brothel has been operating just outside the city limits for more than a century. A woman known by all as Miss Mona was left the ranch by the original owner, Miss Wulla Jean, and she runs a pretty tight ship with “her girls.” Miss Mona is also on good terms with the local sheriff, Ed Earl Dodd, but when crusading television reporter Melvin P. Thorpe (based on real-life Houston news personality Marvin Zindler) decides to make the illegal activity an issue, political ramifications cause the place to be closed down.
Mary Gilbreath Grim plays Miss Mona as a cross between a military sergeant and a mother hen, with a tad of lonely little girl mixed in for vulnerability. She is a bleach-blonde dynamo with a powerful voice, and her solo at the end of the show, “Bus From Amarillo,” is a tear-jerker of a show-stopper. Like Miss Mona herself, Grim is the glue that holds this show together. While she doesn’t look much older than her girls, she does master the maturity of the role.
Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd is portrayed by Bob Reed. His voice started off a little rough at the beginning of the show, which I attributed to a long tech week, but just as his voice warmed up as the show went on, I warmed up to him. His frustration as the poor sheriff caught in the middle of a messy situation is fun to watch, and his casual cussing every other line is most entertaining! There aren’t many people who can pull that off without managing to offend someone, yet the audience was all giggly instead, so kudos!
Miss Mona’s girls are portrayed by a talented group of triple-threats consisting of Aly Badalamenti, Donovan Marie Lawson, Callie Cunningham, Hannah Bell, Amy Arevelo, and Alexandra Koeneke Neary. It would be easy to play these roles as two-dimensional, but director Steven D. Morris did an excellent job casting this diverse group of women, and they bring all they’ve got to every scene. Not only do they play “the girls,” they’re newspaper reporters, cheerleaders, church ladies, and more!
Micah Green brings a necessary overdramatic flair to Melvin P. Thorpe. With his perfect hair, flashing eyes, and flamboyant costume (to match his persona) it’s easy to see how someone like this could acquire such a following...one of those personalities we love to hate. Flanked at all times by his Dogettes (Nancy Lamb, George Sepulveda III, Alfred Tamayo, and Christine Chambers), Green is a force to be reckoned with. And speaking of the Dogettes: their vocal powers are extraordinary! Great harmonies with huge range. Nice job.
When it comes to scene stealing, however, we need look no further than Ken’Ja L. Brown as Jewel. With her dry wit, big facial expressions, and powerful vocals, she is a gifted performer who truly shines in her role, and her boisterous “Twenty-Four Hours of Lovin’” is enough to get everyone dancing in the aisles. However, she also has a softer, more sympathetic side that she’s not afraid to bring out in the more serious moments of the show, and she knows when to give focus onstage.
As Doatsey Mae, Patrice Tilley also really shines. This is one of those parts that could easily be a throw-away role, but Tilley not only knows how to deliver the sarcastic punch lines, she also has a lovely singing voice, as demonstrated in her only song, “Doatsey Mae.”
Like “the girls,” the gentlemen of the ensemble play a large number of characters, but none are more memorable than the Aggies. Alfredo Tamayo, Trey Cardona, Layne Hill, Michael McCrary, Tyrell Washington, and Moises Abram Zamora may not all physically be football player types, but they sure know how to sell it! “The Aggie Song” starts off in the locker room and ends up at the Chicken Ranch, and it is here that Lori Woods Blondin’s choreography - while excellent throughout - really makes an impression. Plus, these guys can all really sing. “The Aggie Song” is still running through my mind, in fact.
At the performance I reviewed, Daniel Hernandez was unable to perform the role of the Governor, but if Theatre Arlington’s Executive Director (and, coincidentally the show’s director) Steven D. Morris hadn’t told us in his pre-show speech, I honestly would not have known that he himself wasn’t cast in the part when he came out. He did a bang-up job as the double-talking governor, and the fact that he did it so seemingly effortlessly was truly amazing.
Eric Helsel, A. Soloman Abah Jr., and Michael Green round out the cast with small-town flair, although nearly everyone plays multiple roles.
Mark Dennis Miller’s musical direction, including the first-rate live band, was nearly flawless, and combined with Blondin’s energetic choreography, the musical numbers were top notch and fun to watch, especially as they maneuvered Kevin Brown’s lovely set. Bryan Stevenson’s lighting design only added to the rich color palette, and the hanging lights throughout the great room of the Chicken Ranch were a fabulous touch.
Karen Potter’s costume designs were hit and miss. Miss Mona always looked wonderful but some of the other roles seemed to have been skimped on. Some of the girls were in outfits that weren’t quite period for 1975 and that were occasionally ill-fitting, yet Helsel’s brown leisure suit for the town Mayor was perfect. I will say, however, that the dozens of costume changes all seemed to work seamlessly, which is no small feat, especially when wigs and hats are thrown into the mix.
Bill Eickenloff’s sound design worked well overall for the space, except that the gunshots sounded alike for different types of guns and were too quiet. But the wireless mics were evenly mixed and it was easy to hear everything. Props by Robin Dotson were nicely period and not distracting.
One of the main differences between the film version of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and the stage version is the ending, but my understanding is the stage version is truer to the actual events. I’ve always loved the (somewhat sanitized) movie and while I had read the script before, this was my first time to see this show onstage. Now that I have, I’m definitely going to miss some of the songs that were left out the next time I pull out my DVD of the movie.
Theatre Arlington is opening their 47th season with The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and it is sure to be a hit. If you love Texas, you need to see this show. If you love the movie, you need to see this show. If you love musicals, you need to see this show. Aw, heck. You just need to see this show!
THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS
305 W. Main St.
Arlington, TX 76010
Runs through October 13 — Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm.
Tickets are $28.00.
For information and to purchase tickets, go to https://theatrearlington.org or call the box office at (817) 275-7661.