by Jessica Martin

Dana Kares and David Nikithser star in Haddonfield Plays and Players' THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS, running through August 6.

Of course, the establishment of the title is in Texas, not Haddonfield, except as the newest show at Haddonfield Plays and Players. THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS, the hit musical by Larry L. King and Peter Masterson with music and lyrics by Carol Hall, tells the story of the Chicken Ranch, which has been in Gilbert, Texas since 1850 but suddenly becomes the focus of unwelcome attention. The house got its name when some patrons, mostly farmers, did not have cash and paid their fee with chickens.

We first meet Miss Mona (Dana Kares), the madam (although no one dares call her that) as she interviews two new girls. One of them, Angel (Michelle Cabot), is dressed as a kinky siren, but Miss Mona sees her as a girl-next-door type. The other is a shy country girl (Alicia Morgan Colletti) who has a lot to learn. Mona teaches her girls to be polite and ladylike. It isn’t long before the shy girl has her first customer, who is even more timid than she.

While business goes on as usual at the house, crusading television reporter Melvin P. Thorpe (David Lee Gold) hosts a “Watchdog” TV show aimed at exposing moral and social evils in the community. He announces dramatically that there is a house of ill repute in Gilbert that must be eliminated. Meanwhile, back at the Chicken Ranch, Mona and the girls are preparing for a visit from the Texas A&M (Aggies) football team. But first she is visited by Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd (David Nikithser), obviously more than a friend, who warns her about Melvin’s “crusade.” But she refuses to take it seriously.

Melvin sets up camp on the town’s main street to tell the world about the “terrible evil” in town. Sheriff Ed, citing a local ordinance, drives him away, unaware that everything is being caught on camera. Then the Aggies win their football game and go off to the Chicken Ranch to celebrate—followed by news cameras and reporters. Needless to say, chaos ensues. The issue gets as far as the governor of Texas, who realizes what the political consequences will be if he doesn’t shut down the Chicken Ranch. Sheriff Ed has to bear the bad news to Mona. That’s as far as I will go.

Kares and Nikithser are excellent as the leads, and Gold’s Melvin is the kind of guy you love to hate. Other standout performances are by Denise Huntsinger as Doatsey Mae, who runs a small restaurant or coffee shop where townsfolk congregate, and Steve Ciapanna as the cliché-spouting, sidestepping governor. Many of the cast members play more than one character. You might think that some of the Texans, especially the politicians, are stereotypes or even caricatures, but friends who have been there tell me that they are based on reality.

I thought that the pace on opening night could have been livelier, and energy was a bit low, except in boisterous moments such as the Aggies’ locker room scene and dance number. Probably the pace and energy will improve with later performances. The music is not particularly memorable, but the orchestra and cast perform it well. If the show has a message, it is probably that hypocrisy and politics (or are they the same thing?) are worse morally than a little old whorehouse.

by Larry L. King and Peter Masterson, music and lyrics by Carol Hall
Directed by Jeanne Gold
July 22, 23, 29 & 30 and August 5 and 6 at 8 p.m.,
July 24 and 31, 2011 at 2 p.m.
Haddonfield Plays and Players
957 E. Atlantic Avenue (next to Crows Woods complex)
Haddonfield, NJ 08033

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