The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is a fun-filled romp based on a real place and a real situation. Creators Carol Hall (music and lyrics) and Larry L King and Peter Masterson (book) produced in 1978 a Tony-winning musical that ran for 1,584 performances and was based on the story of a famous “house of ill repute” that existed in La Grange. Now, Georgetown’s Palace Theatre has brought this musical alive once again for the benefit of Central Texas theatergoers.
And alive it is! Director Ron Watson has provided a fast-paced, high-energy production that offers many moments of delight and entertainment in the two-and-one-half-hour performance. Watson also is to be credited with the imaginative set design featuring, in turn, the interior of the “Chicken Ranch,” where the main action occurs, the locker room of the Aggies football team, and other, smaller venues. Watson’s production team has provided excellent support in creating this imaginative world. Especial mention must be made of the costumes provided under designer Ramona Haass; her outfitting of the “The Girls at Miss Mona’s” is particularly noteworthy for the colorfulness and scantiness of their “working clothes.”
The company’s ensemble players are a real credit to this production. Their singing, under the guidance of music director, Michelle Hache, in various configurations of voices demonstrated they were throughly well-rehearsed. In their own choral numbers or as background to the soloists, the men and women provided good sound and musicality throughout. As dancers, however, they seemed to struggle in the execution of Jesee Smart’s choreography. Nevertheless, what they may have lacked in precision and uniformity in handling the steps, they made up in energy and enthusiasm for an overall entertaining performance.
A share of the credit for the success of this musical production must also go to Jonathan Borden, conductor of the six-piece ensemble that easily handled the score and never overwhelmed the singers.
Rick Smith, presumably an actor first, a singer second, plays Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd. Smith obviously relished this opportunity to play a gun-toting, foul-mouthed law officer, but he refrained from turning his character into a stereotype. His performance was nuanced and restrained, and it was just pure fun to watch him. He delivered his only solo, “Good Old Girl,” at the end of the play with heartfelt emotion and poignancy. Simply put, he was really, really good!
Sheree Bristol played the role of Miss Mona Stangley, owner and operator of the “Chicken Ranch.” According to the program notes, she is a soprano who took on a role for an alto. This was a questionable casting decision, as she appeared, particularly, at the start of the show to have difficulty handling the lower register. Indeed, for a while, it seemed as if she were fighting a throat ailment. However, in her final solo, “The Bus from Amarillo,” the range of which seemed to be more suitable for her, the beauty of her lyrical voice in this poignant song made you hope for an opportunity to hear her in some other undertaking. It was her ability as an actress that probably outweighed any concerns about the risky choice of choosing her for this role. In particular, her monologue as she reflects on her visit to Galveston with Sheriff Dodd was spot on and a memorable part of the production.
Christine Jean-Jacques needs to be highlighted for her role as Doatsey Mae. Her rendering of her eponymous solo was simply wonderful, and her acting as the sassy waitress was delightful.
Robert Cross, as the TV investigative reporter from Houston who exposes the “Chicken Ranch,” and Eric Hungate, as the Texas governor that finally orders its closure, gave delightful outings in their respective roles. Special mention should be made as well of Lannie Hilboldt, Martha Hurley, Elizabeth Etter, Danielle Ruth, and Sarah Manna for their featured musical numbers.
The play continues through November 2 with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. at the Palace Theatre at 810 South Austin Avenue in Georgetown.