‘The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas’ at Rockville Musical Theatre

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“Just lots of goodwill and maybe one small thrill, but there’s nothin’ dirty goin’ on!” This concluding line from the honky-tonk song, “Lil Ol’ Pissant Country Place” perfectly captures the theme of Rockville Musical Theatre’s production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.  This 1979 Tony-nominated Broadway musical features music and lyrics by Carol Hall and book by Larry L. King and Peter Masterson. Despite its title, the play is a sweet—well, more like bittersweet—story of a search for love and a sense of belonging and one’s niche in life. There’s also a healthy dose of personal and political hypocrisy and ambition, but most of all, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas contains an all-you-can-eat Texas buffet of comedy, drama, singing, and dancing that had us laughing, crying, and tapping our toes.

Mona Stangley (Zoe Alexandratos) and Sheriff Earl Dodd (Paul Loebach). Photo by Karen Rogers.
Mona Stangley (Zoe Alexandratos) and Sheriff Earl Dodd (Paul Loebach). Photo by Karen Rogers.

Director/Choreographer Duane Monahan and Musical Director John Marlowe lead a talented cast of volunteer performers in a nonstop musical extravaganza with a few life lessons along the way. Not just for country-western music fans, this show also features rock and roll, rhythm and blues, some heart-rending ballads and a beautiful waltz.

The story is based on a real-life brothel in La Grange, Texas which existed for over a hundred years until it was exposed in the 1970s by the real-life television investigative reporter Marvin Zindler. Supposedly, when money was tight, the “guests” of the brothel paid for services rendered with poultry, and the brothel became known as the Chicken Ranch. The play takes place in the fictitious town of Gilbert, Texas and the investigative reporter is totally caricatured as “Melvin P. Thorpe, Watchdog News.” Thorpe is played strictly for laughs by Jeff Rathner as he announces on camera, “Texas Has a Whorehouse In It.”

The play opens with a “Prologue” by Narrator Tyler Adams and then crescendos into a dazzling production number, “20 Fans.” The ensemble shines as they perform the challenging, up-tempo, high-kicking choreography, which includes acrobatic dancing as well as sexy and funny pantomime.

The proprietor of the Chicken Ranch is Miss Mona Stangley, beautifully portrayed by Zoe Alexandratos, who believes her employees should be ladylike at all times and who has a list of rules “just a little less strict than the Ten Commandments.” Miss Mona provides services to many elected officials and gives generously to their political campaigns.  In return, the clean, reasonably-priced establishment is allowed to exist without interference. Alexandratos’ clear and confident voice demonstrates Miss Mona’s softer side as she encourages a new recruit with the lovely ballad, “Girl, You’re a Woman.” She also makes her personal declaration of independence by singing “The Bus from Amarillo,” as she buys a “1-way ticket to nowhere, where anything is possible” for her.

The ultra-talented Megan Evans plays the role of Jewel, Miss Mona’s assistant manager and friend. Evans is down and dirty as she belts out the soulful rhythm and blues number, “24 Hours of Lovin’” which describes how she likes to spend her one day off per week.

Miss Mona is in love with County Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd, brilliantly brought to life by Paul Loebach. Sheriff Dodd is a throwback who longs for a simpler life. But unfortunately, time and technology have passed him by. Loebach is superb in portraying a man who has a good heart but who is also rough around the edges and has trouble expressing his feelings by any means other than a continuous stream of curse words in a strong Texas accent. In a rare tender moment, Sheriff Dodd confesses his love for Miss Mona, but believes he has nothing to give her, as he croons the beautiful waltz number, “Good Old Girl.”

Jeff Rathner. Photo by Karen Rogers.
Jeff Rathner. Photo by Karen Rogers.

With an impressive vocal range and voice dynamics, Jessica Graber is a standout in the smallish role of Doatsey Mae, a waitress in the local diner. In the powerful anthem, “Doatsey Mae,” she describes her hopes and dreams and laments the fact that she never could fulfill them—while at the same time wishing that others knew that the “plain and respectable” Doatsey Mae was “not as simple as she seems.”

Another outstanding performer is John Brown as a fictitious Texas Governor who does “The Sidestep” whenever he is asked a question about a controversial topic. Brown’s singing, dancing, and comic timing are spectacular as he brings the house down with this hilarious number.

In addition to the wonderful individual performances, the crowning touch of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is the ensemble work.  Note-perfect harmonies add richness to the duets and production numbers and the clever choreography makes the show a joy to watch. In the “Angelette March” the girls perform as cheerleaders while carrying cheerleader dolls on their shoulders. Later, the boys perform as football players in “The Aggie Song,” a sensuous, bare-chested, western stomp.

Meanwhile, Conductor and Keyboardist John Marlowe leads a seven-piece pit orchestra to provide the musical accompaniment, and Set Designer Maggie Modig and Costume Designer Lee Rosenthal skillfully combine their talents to transport us back to 1970s Texas.

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The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is an enjoyable theatre experience and just plain fun!

Running Time:  Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas plays through July 26, 2015 at Rockville Musical Theatre, performing at F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre – 603 Edmonston Drive, in Rockville, MD.  For tickets, call the Box Office at (240) 314-8690, or purchase them online.

LINKS
Meet the Cast of Rockville Musical Theatre’s ‘The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas’: Part 1: Zoe Alexandratos.

Meet the Cast of Rockville Musical Theatre’s ‘The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas’: Part 2: Paul Loebach.

Meet the Cast of Rockville Musical Theatre’s ‘The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas’: Part 3: Jeff Rathner.

RATING: FOUR-AND-A-HALF-STARS11.gif

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is not intended for young children.

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Paul M. Bessel and Barbara Braswell
The most important thing about Paul M. Bessel is that on January 1, 2011, he married the most wonderful woman in the world, who helped him expand his enjoyment of theater. (The first show he remembers was Fiorello! when he was ten, wearing his first suit.) He and his wife now attend as many musicals, history seminars, and concerts as possible, sometimes as many as 4 or 5 a week, enjoying retirement and the joys of finding love late in life, and going on unconventionally romantic dates such as exhibits of mummies and lectures on parliamentary procedure. They live in Leisure World of Maryland and in addition to going to theaters as often as they can they are active together in community and local political organizations. Barbara Braswell grew up in Newport RI, where Jackie Kennedy once bought her an ice cream cone. She has been interested in theatre her whole life. While pursuing a 33-year career with the U.S. Department of Transportation — helping states build highways, including H-3 in Hawaii, where Barbara helped arrange for a shaman to bless the highway — she attended as many shows as possible on her own, with her late mother, and now with her husband. Now retired, she devotes a great deal of time to theatre, community and local political meetings, and having as much fun as possible.