'Whorehouse' requires more than good voices
By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Special to The Advertiser
By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Now that it's 30 years old, it's time to ask whether "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" can continue to hold an audience.
The revival at Diamond Head Theatre, directed and choreographed by Andrew Sakaguchi, boasts some good voices, but the down-home cozy story fails to catch hold despite its provocative setting.
The 1978 Broadway musical, with book by Larry L. King and Peter Masterson and music by Carol Hall, is historically based on the Texas "chicken ranch," where guests were allowed to pay with poultry when times were tough.
The place is presided over by Miss Mona (Anita Hall), who teaches her girls hygiene ("first wash thoroughly with soap and warm water"), manners ("no cussin' or swearin' ") and self-esteem ("chin up, shoulders back"). She's got a lukewarm boyfriend in local Sheriff Ed Earl (Charles Degala), and a rabid nemesis in Melvin P. Thorpe (Daniel James Kunkel), who wants to shut down her operation.
The women in this production provide the stronger aspects of the show.
Hall has the perfect country/stagy voice for the role — filled with the right amounts of power and twang in the nostalgic "A Lil' Ole Bitty Piss-Ant Country Place" and in the plaintive "The Bus from Amarillo." She also duets beautifully with Angela Morales on "No Lies."
Alison Aldcroft delivers an excellent solo as the otherwise extraneous character, "Doatsey Mae, the one nobody thinks of having dreams."
And the women's chorus demonstrates country backbone in joining Miss Mona for "Girl, You're a Woman," and strikes the right chord of country angst with "Hard Candy Christmas":
Fine and Dandy
Lord it's like a hard candy Christmas
I'm barely getting through tomorrow
But still I won't let
Sorrow bring me way down ...
Unfortunately, the men's roles are only intermittently interesting, and they don't fully click.
Degala brings deep velvet tones to Sheriff Ed Earl's songs, but is ill at ease phrasing the show's prologue of "Twenty Fans" and moves through the rest of the role like it fits him uncomfortably.
Kunkel's character of watchdog television personality Thorpe plays like he found it in the mark-down bin at the Campy Stereotype Store. The over-the-top result annoys and distracts, despite his spirited kicking and stomping through "Texas Has a Whorehouse in It."
And while the men's chorus is never fully convincing as dancers or college football players, they whip up some towel enthusiasm during a choreographed shower scene (with real water, thanks to set designer Willie Sabel) and moon appropriately behind Sheriff Ed Earl on "Good Old Girl."
Representing political hypo-crisy are Richard Aadland as the Senator and Gary Morris, a side-stepping governor who winks his way out of controversy by losing himself among the dancers.
Ultimately, though, it's Miss Mona's story and, sadly, we don't come to fully care for her plight. The best we get is a hint of feeling when she recounts a treasured night with Ed Earl that he seems to have forgotten.
A good country song finds its emotion in its music and lyrics. This production has found the songs — and inserts a hot harmonica into Alethea Train's orchestra — but fails to successfully present them with convincing characters and story line.