If you want to enjoy a well known musical with great singing, energetic (and sometimes acrobatic) dancing and a good dose of bawdy jokes, then this is the show for you. First staged on Broadway in 1978, it tells the real life story of a brothel known as Chicken Range run by Miss Mona (Sarah Lark) which is forced to shut down, thanks to a crusading television journalist Melvin P Thorpe ( Leon Craig).
Sarah Lark’s Miss Mona, looking resplendent in wig and costume, is excellent as the brothel’s proprietor. She’s a mother like figure to her ‘whores’, caring and nurturing while setting boundaries on what they can and cannot do. There is smut galore in this musical but, thanks to Mona, there is nothing seedy about this establishment. Lark makes it easy for the audience to establish a rapport with her character. I wanted a cuddle from her at the end of the musical – that is how warm and assuring this Miss Mona is.
Several other cast members also stand out in this production. Stephanie Tavernier’s Jewel, the housekeeper at the ranch, leads the rest of the ‘working girls’ into a smokin’ hot, sexy and soulful ’24 hours of lovin’ and deserves the enthusiastic applause from the audience. Her rendition of this number is a showstopper – and yes, you go my girl! James Parkes delivers his ‘quick tempered on the outside but soft on the inside’ Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd complete with a Southern drawl. As the camp and self important Melvin P Thorpe who wants to shut down the brothel, Leon Craig has an unmissable charismatic stage presence and he brings much humour and energy into the show.
The ‘whores’ are strong as an ensemble even if no one particularly stands out amongst them although the plausible transformation of the new girl Shy (Sally Sullivan) is worthy of a mention. Sometimes individual female voices are not strong enough for the story to be audible and this is especially a problem at the introduction. Richard Jones’ choreography is brilliant and reaches its breath-taking crescendo in the scene where the horny footballers sing ‘The Aggie Song’. His choreography tricks us into thinking that the space at the Union Theatre is much bigger than it really is. Kingsley Hall’s stage design is simple but very clever and effective in setting the scenes. It’s a lesson on the hundred and one things you can do with worn out hospital beds.
At script level, however, the show is uneven in places. The second half of the show is not as gripping or as vigorous as the first half and the ending seems too sudden. The politicians and journalists are caricatures to be laughed at although some may say that’s the only fitting response to the ones we see in real life.
Nevertheless, this new production is tuneful, entertaining, raunchy and well performed by a talented and hardworking cast. And it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is.
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is at the Union Theatre until 12 November. Performance time, at the time of writing, was 2 hours and 15 mins with an interval. Tickets are available at the box office.