Raleigh Ensemble Players’ grand and glorious production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, presented Nov. 17-20 in Cary Academy, really raised the roof of the academy’s Fine and Performing Arts Center. It was a magnificent musical extravaganza that not only hit on all cylinders but closed to fervent standing ovation from a large and appreciative audience. REP artistic director C. Glen Matthews, who specializes in edgy contemporary plays that stretch the boundaries of taste and push the edges of the creative envelope, proved himself equally adept as a director/choreographer of classic American musical theater.
Whorehouse, which made its Broadway debut in 1978 and earned six 1979 Tony Award® nominations, loosely chronicles a real-life local TV reporter’s 1973 jihad against the 129-year-old Chicken Ranch in LaGrange, Texas. Glen Matthews mined a treasure trove of comic gems from Larry L. King and Peter Masterson’s sassy satirical book; and musical director Jacquie Holcombe and musicians Albert Andres, Nathan Golub, Jason Hedrick, Matt Hooper, and Linda Velto performed Carol Hall’s cheeky country songs with pizzazz.
Canady Thomas was a stitch as plucky non-nonsense Chicken Ranch madam Miss Mona Stangley; David Henderson was a scream as Ed Earl Dodd, the aptly nicknamed cussing sheriff of Lanville County; and Brett Wilson was a pompadoured pip as smarmy KTEX watchdog reporter Melvin P. Thorpe, the self-appointed zealot who single-handedly shut down a venerable Texas institution.
Tiffany Ivy was a delight as Miss Mona’s crusty jill-of-all-trades Jewel (“Twenty-Four House of Lovin’”); and Deb Royals Mizerk sang her heart out in “Doatsey Mae” as a poor, overworked, and underpaid hash-house waitress wondering what life would be like in the Fast Lane occupied by the girls of the Chicken Ranch. Shannon Clark was very funny as an ultra-slick Texas governor, desperately trying to “Sidestep” involvement in the burgeoning Chicken Ranch scandal; Larry Evans provided the very picture of shameless political hypocrisy as Senator Wingwoah, who came out smelling like a rose even though he got caught, in flagrante delicto, at the Chicken Ranch; and Jennifer Hirsh was hilarious as airheaded Angelette Imogene Charlene.
Kristin Killmer was good as Shy, the aptly named newest resident of the Chicken Ranch; Mary Floyd portrayed a fallen Angel with gusto; and Zach Thomas put some sass into his narration as Edsel Mackey.
Scenic and lighting designer Thomas Mauney created a versatile multilevel set, costume designer Miyuki Su dressed the working girls to thrill and everyone else in Texas-style attire, and sound designer Al Wodarski kept the vocals clearly audible over the hard-driving instrumental accompaniment.
All in all, the worst that can be said about Raleigh Ensemble Players’ rendition of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is that the show did not stay in town long enough to allow repeat attendance. This Whorehouse closed way too soon.
Raleigh Ensemble Players: http://www.realtheatre.org/. Cary Academy: http://www.caryacademy.org/ [inactive 9/06].