The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

Book by Larry L King and Peter Masterson, music and lyrics by Carol Hall
Aria Entertainment, ASH Productions Live and Paul Taylor-Mills
Union Theatre, Southwark
(2011)

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas publicity image

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is better known as being the Dolly Parton film (the 8th highest grossing musical over a 40 year span, according to boxofficemojo.com) than the original stage show on which the film is based, so well done to the Union Theatre for once again shaking the cobwebs off a little revived piece.

The story surrounds a real brothel that traded illegally for many decades in Texas only closing when a moralising TV personality launched a crusade against it that those in power could not ignore.

It's not much of a plot to be honest but when it opened in the late 1970s, the world was a more innocent place, and in its time this show was pretty naughty stuff and probably raised more than an eye-brow, if you know what I mean.

The idea of a police officer sleeping with a brothel owner or a politician availing himself of "services" fails to scandalise in these post-David Mellor toe-sucking days, and the reality of prostitution can no longer be swept aside with a ditty from the motherly Madam explaining that "there's nothing dirty going on".

The Best Little Whorehouse is dated by references to communist plots, outmoded sentiments and its portrayal of Southerners as soft in the head, albeit good-naturedly so. The male characters are extreme caricatures and appear to be from a different planet than "the girls" who inhabit a more real world. The waffley, poorly structured book is insufficiently elevated by the forgettable songs, and although I concede Drama Desk Awards were won for both Outstanding Lyrics and Music, I can't help feeling some shows are best left un-revived.

What takes director Paul Taylor-Mills' production beyond the shouting is the choreography of Richard Jones, which peaks in "The Aggie Song". Filled with youthful if not manly energy, the local football team sing and dance victoriously, anticipating their reward for winning - a paid trip to the whorehouse. That they do so dressed in their boxers offers a balance to the abundant cleavage, leg and wiggling pert bottom on display, so whatever your proclivities, if you like a good flash of slender flesh to go with your music, this is the show for you. If you also have a thing about big blond wigs, cowboy boots and fringed outfits

Under the musical direction of Tom Turner the ensemble numbers are well-blended and strongly sung, though many individual voices are weak and the diction poor in the faster songs.

Even amongst the young cast, Sarah Lark, as Miss Mona the brothel owner, is disadvantaged by looking half her age, and with a voice too pretty for world-weariness but what she lacks in ballsiness, she makes up for with warmth. James Parkes manages to squeeze some human characteristics from the corrupt, dim-witted Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd.

Lindsay Scigliano's waitress Doatsy Mae and Stephanie Tavernier's maid Jewel stand out though their respective solos are go-nowhere in terms of plot. Leon Craig's camp evangelising Melvin P Thorpe is theatrical marmite: grotesque or screamingly funny.

Paul Taylor-Mills refers to Whorehouse as a "gem" and he may be right, but it's one that doesn't shine.

"The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" plays until 12 November

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti

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