Saturday, July 09, 2016

The Best Little Whorehouse in San Antonio

Last night The Wife and I attended the opening night performance of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas at the Playhouse San Antonio. Let me just cut to the chase and tell you it was a whole hack of a lot of fun. If you've only ever seen the movie version with Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds, you owe it to yourself to see the original* version as it was intended. It's a lot funnier with way more emotional resonance.

The Playhouse's production runs Friday-Sunday from now until August 7. As an added bonus, yours truly will be at each Sunday matinee to discuss the real, historical Chicken Ranch and the hijinks that inspired the musical. Anyone who wants to discuss Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch, well, I'll talk about that, too. I ended up in a few conversations last night, and people were fascinated by the history behind the play, so it should be a lot of fun!

But what about the play itself? First I want to clarify that * above. This is not, technically, the original version that ran for more than 1,500 performances on Broadway. Instead, it is essentially the national touring show reworked for Ann-Margret in 1981. This version has some altered dialog and the song order is rearranged--notably, Miss Mona's elegiac solo, "Bus From Amarillo," which traditionally closes the opening act, instead closes the show. I've never felt this works, as the original finale, "Hard Candy Christmas," is the play's best-known song and anything that comes after is something of a letdown. Following a slow, bittersweet song with a slower, sadder song of missed opportunities results in diminishing returns. Another significant change is the insertion of "Watchdog Report" into the middle of "Texas Has A Whorehouse In It." It's not a bad change, as the two songs are always performed together, but it doesn't add anything and strikes me as change for the sake of change. Curiously, despite using the 2001 version of the play, the Playhouse chose not to use the new song, "A Friend to Me," Carol Hall wrote specifically for that production. The 2001 version also inexplicably makes one of the Aggie football players a foreign student with an indecipherable accent. This is, I suppose, meant to be "wacky" and leave the audience in stitches. In practice, it's annoying as hell and makes no sense. Just so you know.

The Playhouse's production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is uneven and a bit rough around the edges, as regional theatre often is. But make no mistake, there's a lot to like here. Again, it's much more entertaining than the film version, and I'd take Sara Brooks and Bob Galindo's Miss Mona Stangley and Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd over Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds any day of the week. Amanda Tudor steals practically every scene she's in as the awkward, naive would-be prostitute Shy. Elise Lopez's Doatsey Mae solo comes out of nowhere (even though I knew it was coming) and leaves the audience rapt. Ronald Watson's side-stepping Governor is gloriously smarmy and self-aware. Vicky Liendo, as Jewel, absolutely dominates every song she gets with possibly the strongest voice of the entire cast. David Blazer's Melvin P. Thorpe--taking his fashion cues more from Dom Deluise than the real-life Marvin Zindler--is hilariously over-the-top, sporting some of the best comic timing I've seen in the character. The orchestra keeps the music flowing at a nice clip and the entire might was filled with non-stop laughter.

I've previously seen The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas live in Houston, as produced by Theatre Under the Stars. Being the home town of Marvin Zindler, obviously the Houston audience was primed for the story. Despite that, the only real difference I noticed between the two audiences came when Miss Mona talked about a weekend getaway to Galveston, where she marveled at the "crystal blue waters" of the Gulf of Mexico or somesuch. The Houston audience guffawed, as Galveston's waters are notoriously brown. That joke slipped by San Antonians unnoticed.

The only thing that didn't work was the Angelette's march. The original play uses inflatable dolls to highlight the crass hypocrisy of sideline T&A being an acceptable part of the American college and professional sports experience, while the more restrained, out-of-sight lust of the Chicken Ranch was denigrated. That's traded for the women of the ensemble doing a simple dance step routine, which is awkward and serves no purpose other than to fill time. Fortunately, the segment lasts only a few minutes and is quickly forgotten.

So go, go now and see The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas at the Playhouse in San Pedro Park. It's a lovely, intimate venue with talented, enthusiastic performers eager to entertain. You won't be sorry you did.

Now Playing: R.E.M. Automatic for the People
Chicken Ranch Central

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