The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
4th May 2018
Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds
Type of Production
Author: Julie Petrucci
Based in part on a true story of actual events that took place in a small rural Texan community in the 1970s this bouncy little musical tells the story of the 'Chicken Ranch' whorehouse in Texas and the adventures of its staff of girls.
The stage setting worked well with stairs and platforms at different levels giving space for large pieces of furniture to be cleverly hidden beneath and providing plenty of opportunity for the whorehouse girls to drape themselves lasciviously around the playing space.
Having the band tucked away under the main structure but still very much a presence rather than in the orchestra pit was a bit of a double-edged sword. Although the audience could fully appreciate the authentic country sounds emanating forth throughout the evening very often the music overpowered what was going on. Often I could not hear the lyrics, many of which are important in moving the story along.
The Bandleader (Phil Amtower) Introducing the action with a potted history of the Chicken Ranch, may have been making a good job of it but I am afraid his dialogue was lost to me completely. Not having seen this show before, I wasn't really sure of exactly what part the band were playing in the show's narrative to need a 'band leader' but I dare say that's a result of my woeful ignorance rather than a fault of the production!
Madam of the Whorehouse, Miss Mona Stangley, was played with confident dignity by Fiona Barker who introduced us to her girls and the house rules, with new recruits Angel and Shy slotting in nicely. Katie Woodhouse as Angel and Phoebe Bryant as Shy gave two fine pen portraits of their characters and were, in a way, the audience's entry to the seamy world of brothel life. Looking after Miss Mona and the girls, Kate Steggles grasped the opportunity of role-sharing the character of Jewel and showed her real vocal talent in ‘Twenty-Four Hours of Lovin’.
The other ladies of the ranch were played confidently by an accomplished supporting female cast. It was evident that everyone in the Chicken Ranch had relished the chance to really let their hair down and threw themselves into their roles, with Beth Jennings - definitely a performer to keep your eye on - giving a polished performance as the long-suffering waitress, providing an affecting outsider's point of view with her song, 'Doatsey Mae’.
TV's moral crusader Melvin P Thorpe was given just the right amount of self-righteousness and bluster by Benjamin Hill and Colin Musgrove produced my favourite performance of the evening as the oily Governor of Texas in his “Boss Hogg” costume showing some nifty footwork in ‘The Sidestep’.
Other smaller roles were skilfully played by members of the chorus, bringing to life a host of different characters; corrupt townsfolk, Melvin P Thorpe's TV congregation, brothel visitors, a football team and a senator amongst others. This myriad of supporting roles did however lead to some confusion from time to time as to who was who. I also had a bit of an issue with parts of the action taking place down in the audience. For those sitting in the dress circle it meant either leaning a long way forward or sitting still and listening to the dialogue. The rabble chanting for the Chicken Run to be closed down drowned out the onstage dialogue.
Choreographer Jess Clifford gave the ladies of the chorus some interesting routines throughout the show, the gentlemen of the football team literally bared all with humorous effect coming out of the showers wrapped in towels with wonderful abs, all painted on, in Act One. The Aggie Song in Act One and the Governor's 'Sidestep' in Act Two were particular highlights.
Ensemble singing was of the usual BSEAODS high standard and standout numbers for me included 'The Sidestep', '20 Fans' and 'A Lil' Ol' Bitty Pissant Country Place’.
MD Simon Pearce managed to conjure up a lively sound from the band and aside from the handful of gripes mentioned above, this was a show which had obviously inspired the cast and crew to put their heart and soul into it.
As you can imagine with such a fruity subject matter, the goings-on on-stage were very much for adults only, containing as it does much raunchiness and references to wife beating, incest and extreme right wing opinions.
Fortunately in the hands of Director Chris Strahm BSEAODS managed to turn what could have been some people’s worst nightmare into a jolly evening's entertainment and a surprisingly wholesome one at that.