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Best Little Whorehouse Review

Music and Morality

Address: 215 Jackson Street
San Francisco, CA 94111
Phone: 415-255-8207

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

Dyan McBride (center) as Miss Mona with the ladies of the Chicken Ranch (l. to r.) Madison Genovese, Yuliya Edelnant, Andrea Dennison-Laufer, Doris Bumpus, Anne Norland and Brittney Monroe

Photos by Ben Krantz Studio

Review by Judith M. Wilson

Colorful characters, catchy tunes and a real-life story make The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas an American favorite. Based on a book by Larry King and Peter Masterson, which grew out of an article in Playboy that King wrote in 1974, the original Broadway production opened in 1979. It was the winner of numerous awards, including Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Choreography and Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Musical and Outstanding Lyrics. Its last major production was in 2001, when it went toured the country with Ann-Margret in the lead. And now it’s at the Gateway Theatre in San Francisco as 42nd Street Moon’s crowd-pleasing season-opener.

DC Scarpelli (center) as Melvin P. Thorpe with the Thorpe Singers

The story revolves around the Chicken Ranch, a brothel on the outskirts of LaGrange, Texas, where patrons exchanged chickens for services during the Great Depression. In the stage show, it develops traditions—one involving the local college's football team—and finds friends in high places. People turn a blind eye to its activities, and it quietly goes about its business until the 1970s, when it catches the attention of a conservative TV crusader, who makes it his mission to close the whorehouse down. Politics, morality and human nature are all part of the mix and show that decency doesn’t always equal morality.

Dyan McBride plays Mona Stangely, the brothel’s madam as a firm but kind employer. MIchael Ray Wisely is Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd, Mona’s friend and supporter who recognizes that the odds are against him. And DC Scarpelli portrays the judgmental crusader Melvin P. Thorpe as an outrageous, cartoonish character, who wields moral power but is none too likeable. Ashley Garlick and Andrea Dennison Laufer are Angel and Ginger, respectively, two of Mona’s girls, each with a backstory that underscores her humanity. The characters are well-defined individuals, making the cast one of the production’s strengths. They are sometimes stereotypical, but always amusing, with some clever lines to draw the laughs. (Michael Ray Wisely as Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd and Dyan McBride as Miss Mona)

Christina Lazo is director/choreographer, and she keeps the action moving at a steady pace, with songs, dances and a busy set with people coming and going. The music creates much of the show’s energy, with musical direction by Dave Dobrusky and songs with a country feel by Carol Hall. The set design by Brian Watson aids the production, paying attention to small details to set the show in time, but structured to showcase the musical numbers.

Michael Barrett Austin (center) as Senator Wingwoah with the Aggie football team

42nd Street Moon’s goal is to take once-popular musicals that we don’t often see and bring them back to life. The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is such a show, and all the elements come together in a satisfying and fun musical theater production that show why it's an enduring favorite.

The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas plays through October 21, at the Gateway Theatre (formerly the Eureka Theatre), 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco. For more information on the 2018-2019 season, go to 42ndstmoon.org.