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'The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas': A musical fit for the Texas scandal

John Holly as Governor. Photo by Gaby Quintana, courtesy of Theatre Under The Stars.
John Holly as Governor. Photo by Gaby Quintana, courtesy of Theatre Under The Stars.Photo by Gaby Quintana, courtesy of Theatre Under The Stars.

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

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Last night Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS) kicked off their four-night engagement of "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" at Miller Outdoor Theatre. This continues TUTS annual summer performances at Miller Outdoor Theatre which they have been doing since 1968. Despite the summer heat, the overcast evening provided the perfect atmosphere to sit back, hear some boot scooting country twang and see this risqué musical.

"The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" tells the story of the real life "Chicken Ranch" which was closed down in 1973. History and the entertainment world didn't wait long before this Broadway musical hit the stage in ‘78 and by ‘82 there was a motion picture based on the infamous Texas brothel as well. Director Bruce Lumpkin brings this musical alive again steaming from the 2012 success it had while playing at the Hobby Center. Audiences now get the chance to see it again at unbeatable prices. Lumpkin mixed with the choreography by Shay Rodgers gives this musical the true Texas feel with a little bit of country mixed with musical flare. For example, the mixing of tap dance moves and feel during group choreographed country line dances.

Although a small six man band, Drew Starlin (recently seen in TUTS Underground’s “Hands on a Hardbody”), is the bandleader and Narrator, offers just the right smooth country sound to prepare audiences and get them clapping their hands and tapping their toes to the music. Jeff Duncan, who plays violin, wows and amazes the audience prior to the start of the production and throughout with his fiddle like solos and flawless musical ability.

(Spolier Alert: Discussion of plot and songs below)

“The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” gives modern audiences a look back in time as this overlooked brothel that was allowed to run in this small Texas town until a Houston reporter came and caused a media stir until the place was finally closed. Based on the true events, which lead to the closing in 1973, this chronicles Mona Stangley (Michelle DeJean) who takes over as the “Chicken Ranch” owner just before a media circus erupts. DeJean has a quiet, understated command of the stage. She offers a deep, rich tone in her voice that quietly grabs your attention and then amazes you when she belts out her louder notes.

As two newcomers, Amber (Julia Krohn) and Shy (Betty Marie Muessig), arrive to join the “ranch”, audiences first get to experience the power and rich tone in DeJean’s voice when she, joined by the other girls, sings “A Lil’ Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place”. DeJean has a playful yet firm personality that suits the Mona character personality and although she seems inviting, she would be one woman I would not want to cross.

Shortly after the new girls arrive, a charismatic, loud spoken Houston reporter Melvin P. Thorpe (Michael Tapley) breaks open the fact that “Texas Has a Whorehouse In It”, which has him and his “followers” comically singing about the unsettling news. Houston natives, as well as those familiar with the story, know that Melvin was based on the beloved Houston reporter Marvin Zindler, who broke the story. Tapley is a perfect representation of the late Zindler down to the blue sunglasses and loud proclaiming of his name as an introduction. Tapley captures the spirit and tenacity of Zindler as he unfailingly searched and created havoc until he reached the truth of the “Chicken Ranch”.

Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd (Kevin Cooney, most recently seen in TUTS Underground’s “Hands on a Hardbody”) is the elderly, laid-back officer caught in the middle of the crossfire. Like many politicians and other officials at the time that knew and ignored the operations at the ranch, Cooney plays the Sheriff in a tender, gentle and sympathetic style. Audiences feel both for Dodd and Mona as they struggle with their own personal feelings throughout the musical all the while mixed up in the obvious illegal operation.

Audiences seemed to have mixed reactions towards the end of the musical as “The Raid” was performed, exposing the truth of the ranch and leaving Mona and the Sheriff with no choice but to close down. Some audience members were moved to tears while others state stone faced disgusted or judging the actions of Mona and the other working girls as they sang “No Lies” and “Hard Candy Christmas”. The entire cast creates this over the top look at a rather regrettable small Texas town business operation with both humor and honesty. Audiences can expect fun, comedy and a night filled with good ole country music and dancing when they see this musical. Not for the young or faint of heart, there are a few mimicked gunshots, which will be sure to make you jump, but overall this production offers a fascinating exposé of a small town’s seedy business dealings that became national news.

For a weekend, evening filled with yeehaws and line dancing, make your way to Miller Outdoor Theater and don't miss your chance to see "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas". Like all Miller productions this one is free for attendees yet be sure to remember to bring age appropriate guest some material isn't suitable for children. Performances run through Sunday. Free tickets for the covered seats are available on the day of performance between 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. at the Miller Theatre Box Office. Free tickets are limited to four per person. Any tickets remaining will be given out one hour before curtain.

For more information, visit milleroutdoortheatre.com and be sure to check out more events at Miller on their calendar of events. Also, visit www.tuts.com to find out all about the upcoming 2014-2015 season for TUTS and TUTS Underground. Browse around to find out how to become a season ticket holder or sign up for their mailing list.