Saturday, July 26, 2014

Wetumpka Depot: "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas"

Now playing to sold out audiences at the Wetumpka Depot, the 1978 musical by Carol Hall, Larry King, and Peter Masterson -- The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas -- is based on the real life Chicken Ranch bordello in La Grange, Texas that was closed after many years through the efforts of a crusading media reporter.

The play features Miss Mona [Kim Mason is effervescent here], the archetypal "prostitute with a heart of gold", who has managed to keep a flourishing business by placating the local authorities (Sheriff, Senator, Governor, et al.), paying heavy taxes, and supporting various community projects. Everyone, it seems, is willing to turn a blind eye to her "business" until Melvin Thorpe [Scott Page's over-the-top portrayal is exceptional] determines to rid the area of Mona's sinful Chicken Ranch, by harnessing the morally upright citizens to demonstrate against it via live-feed television.

Director Kristy Meanor and Musical Director Marilyn Swears guide their cast of some thirty-four veteran and neophyte actors through the two-and-a-half hour risque romp, that has the Depot's audiences laughing at the play's outrageousness and sympathizing with the sensitive depictions of any number of its characters. Jonathan Yarboro serves as the play's narrator and also is Edsel, the local newspaperman who keeps a solid footing throughout; and Cindy Veasey's role of Doatsey Mae, the cafe owner with several unfulfilled dreams is a sensitive depiction.

Mona runs a "nice country house" with very strict rules for her girls; and when new recruits Angel [Adrian Lee Borden] and Shy [Emma Colson] are hired on a trial run, Mona shows her concern for Angel's surface-tough demeanor and Shy's school-marm appearance. And Mona's business partner Jewel [Shaina Pierce] comes into her own with "Twenty Four Hours of Lovin'".

Though it takes a while to get to the central conflict, we are treated to infectious production numbers like "A Lil' Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place" that sets Mona's welcoming tone that is then counterbalanced by Melvin's in-your-face "Texas Has a Whorehouse In It". Both numbers have an energetic verve that showcases the large ensemble in ever inventive staging and characterizations enhanced by Mary Katherine Moore's inventive choreography. -- Especially noteworthy are Madyson Greenwood as Ginger, Reese Lynch as the youngest Aggie with a couple of scene-stealing moments that he handles with aplomb, and Matthew Walter as the Aggie to watch, as Mr. Walter is fully committed to every on-stage moment.

Mona's love interest is in the person of Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd [a solid Stephen Dubberley] who ultimately and reluctantly has to close down the Chicken Ranch when "watchdog" Melvin has pressured the Governor [Patrick Hale's caricature depiction is close to perfection], influential businessman C. J. Scruggs [Michael DiLaura], and Senator [David Woodall] (who is literally caught with his pants down when Melvin brings the television crew on a raid while the Texas A&M "Aggies" are there celebrating a recent football win).

There is a bitter-sweet ending at the closing of the Chicken Ranch -- we have come to like Mona and her girls -- yet we leave the Depot theatre with smiles on our faces.