‘The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas’ at Signature Theatre by Amanda Gunther

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There’s trouble brewing at the chicken ranch! But Miss Mona and her girls promise that won’t ruin your good time as you come on down to Signature Theatre to see The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Directed by Eric Schaeffer with musical direction provided by Gabriel Mangiante this boot-scootin’ rootin’-tootin’ good time will have you stomping your foot along and cheering for the girls as they just try to have some good clean old fun down in Gilbert, Texas.

Davis Hasty, Vincent Kempski and Benjamin Horen. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

A riotous good time with the high points of hilarity and the low lulls of the sad sobering truth this musical is a hootenanny revival that will keep you on your toes! Miss Mona runs the most respectable, clean, and long established pleasure palace in the south under the name of The Chicken Ranch. And that’s all fine and dandy until Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd starts shooting off his mouth on live TV in front of bible beatin’ watchdog Melvin P. Thorpe. The whole mess turns into one big powder keg splitting the town into a whirlwind of confusion; half petitioning to close the den of sin and the other half petitioning to keep it open and preserved as a historical building. And all of this coming down on the night when the good old Aggie boys are meant to have their Thanksgiving celebration field trip out to the ranch. It’s barrel of laughs and more fun than shootin’ a sawed-off shotgun at a field full of varmints.

Step into the whorehouse with Scenic Designer Collin Ranney who crafts a brilliant interior for the famous establishment. All 20 fans are spinning over the two-tiered house – some are even spinning out over the audience. Ranney creates a rustic look with a touch of class hidden in the faded candy apple red wood that covers the floors, walls, even the staircase. The slatted saloon style doors that line the balcony and lower level are studded like window boxes and create stunning effects when the shadowy silhouettes of the enticing ladies inside appear in between their frames. Ranney crafts a sense of southern charm and Texas titillation in this set, making every member of the audience feel right at home in Miss Mona’s place.

What good is a hoedown without some high-kickin’ foot-shufflin’ dance steps? Choreographer Karma Camp delivers heart-thumping excellence with her swinging southern dance routines that are fitter than a fiddle. We see fine shimmy-shakin’ with Miss Mona’s girls during “A Lil’ Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place” and a real fiery tent revival with clapping that will blaze a trail to glory in Melvin P. Thorpe’s “Texas Has A Whorehouse In It.” Camp’s finest work is showcased with the Aggie boys during “The Aggie Song” where the cowboys in the locker room start rockin’, finishing the number with a tap-off rodeo style showdown featuring each of the boys and their talented acrobatic skills. Keep your eyes peeled for the hot and spicy kick-line performed by Miss Mona’s girls over the stairs during the special list of “no-no’s” early in the show.

There is true Texas sized talent in this production, ranging through a wide selection of pretty dancing girls, toe-tappin’ cowboys, and beautiful belting women that will just mesmerize the socks right off of you. All of Miss Mona’s girls do just fine and dandy with their bittersweet rendition of “Hard Candy Christmas” led by Angel (Erin Driscoll) that echoes with dulcet harmonies like a choir of cherubs crying out before heading home. Driscoll in particular is a spitfire character coming into her own with a soft center and gritty cowgirl exterior.

The girls continue to turn up the heat when they sing with Jewel (Nova Y. Payton) in “Twenty Four Hours of Lovin’.” Payton who plays the properly reserved right hand to Miss Mona lets loose with a deep saucy sensual sound in this number, dragging out each of those spicy and steamy 24 hours. Her voice takes on sultry tones that you might just have to charge by the hour to hear. And the sexually charged playful dancing that she engages the girls with in this number is almost too hot to handle. One of the most provocative and wildly moving moments of the show happens right here with Payton in the lead. But she shows off her good-natured side in act two during “No Lies” a duet with Miss Mona where Payton belts the high octaves to the rafters and really brings it on home for all who are listening.

Our men really rile this show up. Those rough ridin’ cowboys get to showin’ their stuff during “The Raid” and while there isn’t much singing going on you sure do see a lot of gorgeous panicked movement as the boys flee the Chicken Ranch in a hurry. But the biggest shakeup of them all comes from the great Governor of Texas (Dan Manning). Throwing everyone for a loop with his number “The Side Step” Manning scoots his boots along with the best of them, boxing up to the balcony with his gun slinging fingers providing the perfect drip of comic relief to a mighty tense situation.

Of course this whole thing never would have blown up without that dog of a character Melvin P. Thorpe (Christopher Bloch). The watchdog of the news he’s quite the barker when it comes to putting on a show. Bloch has that surly southern sound when he sings and lets that holier than thou attitude shine through in every conquest he tackles. Block runs yellow like the rest of them in the face of an angry gun-blazing sheriff, creating the perfect balance between self-righteous ass and prime coward.

The sheriff is the glue of the show, Ed Earl Dodd (Thomas Adrian Simpson) stirring up a fuss and sweet talking Miss Mona all the while. Simpson is a pistol of a man, shooting his mouth of with phrases that keeps the audience in stitches with laughter. With his great southern drawl and his prickly rough around the edges mannerisms Simpson provides the perfect foil for the pure as punch Miss Mona. When he sings “Good Old Girl” the sound is filled with a sweeping nostalgia that brings a tear to your eye, his melodious voice resonating deep into the basement to perfect that song. Simpson exudes compassion and creates a dynamic character allowing us to identify with his plight, really making the audience understand every pause and breath he takes so that when he makes that rock and hard place decision you can’t help but feel sorry for him. He’s a true miracle and does the role a world of justice.

Sherri L. Edelen, Amy McWilliams, Nora Palka, Jamie Eacker and Nadia Harika. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

Now that just leaves Miss Mona (Sherri L. Edelen). She’s the master of the house and the charmer of audience, a superstar at the peak of perfect stealing everyone’s thunder in this show. From her knockout looks with the bang-bangs out to there, and her southern saucy attitude, Edelen will capture your heart the moment she struts down those steps. Her country twang rings true when she starts spitting fire in her number “A Lil’ Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place,” channeling Dolly like you wouldn’t believe. Edelen encompasses a world of notes in her character, fitting easily into the softer side of things with her strong but gentle song “Girl, You’re A Woman.” Her flirty chemistry with Ed Earl is too cute for words and her vivacious nature is almost too hot to handle. Edelen wows the audience with her talent, amazes them with that southern belle charm, and sweeps them off their feet with that wondrous voice; a certified sensation with a heart as pure as gold, Edelen does not disappoint as the epic Miss Mona Stangley.

So squeeze into your boots and shuffle on down to Signature Theatre before The Best Little Whorehouse gets thrown out of town!

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas plays through October 7, 2012, in Signature’s MAX Theatre – 4200 Campbell Avenue, in Arlington, VA. Tickets are available for purchase in person at the Signature Theatre Box Office, online, or by calling Ticketmaster at (703) 573-7328.

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Amanda Gunther is an actress, a writer, and loves the theatre. She graduated with her BFA in acting from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and spent two years studying abroad in Sydney, Australia at the University of New South Wales. Her time spent in Sydney taught her a lot about the performing arts, from Improv Comedy to performance art drama done completely in the dark. She loves theatre of all kinds, but loves musicals the best. When she’s not working, if she’s not at the theatre, you can usually find her reading a book, working on ideas for her own books, or just relaxing and taking in the sights and sounds of her Baltimore hometown. She loves to travel, exploring new venues for performing arts and other leisurely activities. Writing for the DCMetroTheaterArts as a Senior Writer gives her a chance to pursue her passion of the theatre and will broaden her horizons in the writer’s field.