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Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 21 October 2011

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

Union Theatre ⋄ 18th October - 12th November 2011

The oldest profession.

Julia Rank

It’s extraordinary that it took two people (Larry L. King and Peter Masterson) to write the book for Carol Hall’s true-events-based 1978 musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas as it’s as much of a dramaturgical disaster as the Union’s recent offering The Baker’s Wife. These two flawed 1970s musicals have very different performance histories: The Baker’s Wife understandably flopped, yet The Best Little Whorehouse ran for 1,584 performances on Broadway, where it returned after a national tour with the original leads and was later filmed starring Dolly Parton. It might be a show that doesn’t try to be anything other than light entertainment, but that doesn’t mean that the queasy sexual politics should be accepted with an indulgent shrug as a harmless ‘bit of fun.’

An inaudible introduction charting the history of The Chicken Ranch and how it passed into the hands of Miss Mona narrated by Doatsey-Mae (Lindsay Scigliano), a waitress in the greasy spoon next door and a failed prostitute, is an unpromising start from which Paul Taylor-Mills’s production never really recovers. Miss Mona runs what she believes to be a respectable sort of house where “a certain kind of French” is spoken (‘guests’ rather than ‘customers’ and ‘sample salesmen’, not ‘pimps’), a high level of pastoral care is provided and the local Sheriff (an uncomfortable James Parkes) is an old friend. She and her girls live together like one big happy family; the conflict comes in the form of a campaign led by squealing television anchor and evangelist Melvin P. Thorpe (an immensely grating turn by Leon Craig in a Boris Johnson-style wig) to get the establishment closed down. The second act merely ties up a few loose ends.

There are no romances between whores and clients (it’s unusual to find a musical without a love story), none of the girls try to rebel and the old spark between Miss Mona and the Sheriff isn’t re-lit. A football team promised a field trip to the whorehouse as a special treat get the most memorable choreography with an interesting display of male bonding featuring some athletic dancing with towels. Designer Kingsley Hall exploits the versatility of old fold-up beds, which act as shower cubicles and screens behind which the girls provide their services.

As Miss Mona, Sarah Lark is a fine singer and has a nicely approachable manner, but is decades too young and lacks blowsy authority. The youthfulness of the whole cast is something of a problem, particularly the whores who are far too fresh-faced to be convincingly world-weary, though Stephanie Tavernier offers powerful vocals and substantial presence as brothel housekeeper Jewel and it would make more sense if she had the narrator role.

The prostitute has a rich history in musical theatre, often idealised, but rarely sentimentalised in such a sickly manner (though it is the only musical I’ve ever seen that alludes to menstruation). When the gauche new girl Shy (Nancy Sullivan) takes to her new profession like a duck to water, the others congratulate her ‘Girl, You’re a Woman’ without irony as if it’s a wonderful act of empowerment. Along with an abrupt ending in which the leading lady accepts defeat (a strange way to end a romp), all of this is as hard to swallow as a Hard Candy Christmas.

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Julia Rank

Julia is a Londoner who recently completed a MA in Victorian Studies at Birkbeck College. Resolutely living in the past until further notice, Julia finds enjoyment in exploring art galleries and museums, dabbling in foreign languages, rummaging in second hand bookshops, and cats.

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas Show Info


Directed by Paul Taylor-Mills

Cast includes Sarah Lark, Luke Barron, Aimee Buchanan, Leon Craig, Patrick George, Dayle Hodge, Franki Jenna, Jodie Lee Wilde, Tony Longhurst, Oliver Metcalfe, Dan O'Brien, Stephen Oliver Webb, Jarred Page, Jamie Papanicolaou, James Parkes, Kimberly Powell, Nancy Sullivan, Lindsay Scigliano, Sasi Strallen, Katy Stredder, Stephanie Tavernier, Kelle Walters, Scott Wheeler, Anthony Williamson.

Link http://www.uniontheatre.biz/

Running Time 2hrs 15mins (including interval)

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