Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Best Little Whorehouse rides again!

It should come as a surprise to exactly no one that I have Google alerts set up for any news media mention of the Chicken Ranch and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. This gets me a lot of school lunch menus ("chicken ranch wrap") but occasionally something interesting shows up, such as that time in 2014 when my in-box filled up with alerts about a new Broadway revival of Whorehouse. Surprisingly, the play has never returned to Broadway following its initial record-breaking run (although a sequel, The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public, made it through 16 performances in 1994), although numerous regional performances and a national tour headlined by Ann-Margret have kept the show in continuous production. The revival was to be headed up by none other than Tony Award-winning director/choreographer Rob Ashford, and would debut sometime in 2015.

And then... nothing. Ashford spent most of 2015 in the UK working on an number of projects with Kenneth Branagh, none of which involved whorehouses or Texas. I finally got a publishing deal for my book, and rewrote a bit in the final chapter to make only a vague reference to the proposed play. It seemed like Whorehouse revival was one of many announced projects that would come to naught. Until, that is, last week, when a cryptic news alert popped up saying Kristin Chenoweth would participate in a reading of Whorehouse. There wasn't much else to go along with that, but my interest was piqued. Then yesterday, my in-box exploded with this and this and this and this. Wow. Those certainly filled in more of the blanks. It looks like we may be getting our Whorehouse revival after all!

So let's break this down, shall we? Chenoweth headed up a "private industry reading" yesterday, filling the role of Miss Mona. Presumably, news of the "private" reading was intentionally leaked to the media to start building buzz for the production. I suppose it worked. The reading was at the behest of Ashford, the only directorial talent associated thus far with the revival and apparently still in on the project. Readings are the first step toward fleshing out a production, which choreography and set design and all the other fun stuff coming later. Chenoweth's one of the biggest Broadway stars working today, so it's safe to say that she's not just filling is as a placeholder--this thing is finally moving forward, and Chenoweth is the new incarnation of Miss Mona Stangley. This is interesting casting, apart from that Chenoweth's popularity makes her an obvious choice. She's from Oklahoma, the same as Chicken Ranch madam Edna Milton was. And she's roughly the same age as Miss Edna when the place closed down. Unlike the originator of the role, Carlin Glynn, an actress who learned to sing for the part, Chenoweth's got serious vocal range. She'll certainly do better in the role than Ann-Margret, whose vocal performance in the national touring show was regrettable, to say the least.

The rest of the listed cast for the reading is interesting as well. The name that jumped out to me was Kevin McKidd as Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd. I have no idea if McKidd can sing or not (I'd cast Lyle Lovett, actually, had I any say in the matter) but HOLY MOLY LUCIUS VORENUS IS GONNA BE THE SHERIFF! I absolutely adored Rome, and in many, many ways it paved the way for HBO's Game of Thrones. The one thing that gives me pause is his age--he's only in his early 40s, and actually younger than Chenoweth. That's a bit disconcerting, as the sheriff in the play (and reality) was significantly older. I hope they're not trying to recapture the magic of Burt Reynolds from the film (that's sarcasm there).

Another big name attached is Jennifer Holliday, who hit the big time on Broadway starring in Dreamgirls back in the 80s. She won a Tony award for her performance and launched a successful R&B singing career, picking up a Grammy in 1983. I guarantee she's gonna knock the hell out of "Twenty-Four Hours of Lovin'" on stage. Other participants in the reading include Christopher Sieber as Melvin P. Thorpe, James Naughton as the Governor, Kerry Butler as Doatsey Mae, Heléne Yorke as Angel, Madeline Brewer as Shy and Greg Hildreth as Mayor Rufus Poindexter. And that's just the main roles--various Aggies, Chicken Ranch ladies, Angelettes and the like are also listed in various reports. The long and short of this is that one doesn't assemble so much talent together for a private, one-off "Our Gang" type of show. This isn't Spanky, Darla and Alfalfa up on an orange crate stage singing "Hello, hello, hello, we hope you like our show!" This thing is really happening, Twitter is abuzz and the fact that we know all about it is a huge sign that their promotional team is kicking it into gear.

The original run of Whorehouse lasted 1,584 performances in the 46th Street Theatre, a record that stands today. Interestingly enough, that venue, now known as the Richard Rodgers Theatre, is currently host to the uber-smash Hamilton, an odds-on favorite to break that Whorehouse record in a few years. Even so, with this cast and director, plus its decades-long absence from Broadway, I expect this new incarnation of Whorehouse to be a huge hit. And maybe, just maybe, the theatre's souvenir/memorabilia shop will stock Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse alongside tee-shirts, caps, programs and posters. At least, that's my dream. A run of 1,584 performances would translate into a whole heck of a lot of books sold, wouldn't it?

If you can't wait for the Broadway premiere and you live in Central Texas, you're in luck, because the San Pedro Playhouse in San Antonio is gearing up for its own production of Whorehouse, with opening night just a little more than a week away:

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