We remember the 1970s as the era of disco, home video games, and Jimmy Carter. It was also a time when some of the most old-fashioned relics of the past flickered out for good — and what’s more old fashioned than a 19th Century style Texas whorehouse, the kind with a motherly madame and fresh-faced young women in garter belts and corsets? Under the direction of Henry Porreca, the Wilmington Drama League takes you back to the last days of the Chicken Ranch with their production of the musical THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS, a show that’s as moving as it is randy and fun.
The show starts with Jewel, played by the lovely TS Baynes, giving a little historical background of the Chicken Ranch — an open secret in their tiny Texas town (or, as the ladies call it, “A Lil’ Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place”). It’s an institution. A place where lost young women like Angel (Amanda Shepard) and Shy (Meghan Hindmarch) go to find refuge and work, a home among “The Girls” without the dangers of working the street. The fabulous Ms. Mona (Anne North) accepts the two newcomers, who, like the others, carry painful baggage.
Life was fine at the Chicken Ranch for nearly 100 years, until TV Watchdog reporter Melvin P. Thorpe (Edward Emmi) decided to run an exposé on the illegal brothel. Thorpe is devoted to his ratings, busting lawbreakers, and God, a combination that makes him a relentless crusader against the Ranch, even as local police and lawmakers continue to try to keep it hush. No one wants to see the Ranch shut down less than Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd (Terry Ireland), a longtime confidante of Mona’s. Even when the scandal reaches the Governor (Ted Harting), he sidesteps the issue (literally, in the hilarious number “The Sidestep”), until he finally cracks.
On Friday, the sound was a bit hit or miss in the beginning — this show doesn’t use mics, which I generally prefer, but the background music needed adjustment to make it work. Once it did, I forgot about the sound altogether. The vocal talent is strong, especially Baynes, Shepard and North as Jewel, Angel and Mona. The “Girls” — made up of an ensemble that played not only the prostitutes but also members of Thorp’s choir and the riotous Angelette cheerleaders — are the heart of the show. Jodi Persing and Courtney Gardner stand out; you don’t want to take your eyes off them. The male ensemble, who play cowboys, townsfolk and the winning Aggies football team, come together with Ireland wonderfully in the heartfelt “Good Old Girl,” a tribute to Ms. Mona when all was said and done.
The highlight, though, is the show’s most famous song, “Hard Candy Christmas,” sung by the Girls, led by Shepard. This is where the real bittersweetness of the story, and of the girls’ reality comes through. They could not have performed it more beautifully.
THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS runs through May 19.
THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS
Book by Larry L. King and Peter Masterson
Music & Lyrics by Carol Hall
Directed by Henry Porreca
Musical Direction by Lori Citro
Choreography by Jennifer Polish Quinn
May 4 – 19, 2012
Wilmington Drama League
10 West Lea Boulevard
Wilmington, DE 19802