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Review: The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas - Union Theatre, Southwark, London

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas 



I have seen several productions of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and it is one I never tire of. Many people will be familiar with the 1982 film adaptation starring Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds, but the stage musical differs quite a lot from the movie, and not in a bad way. Don’t expect Dolly-style warbling, or some of the more famous songs from the movie, but do expect an emotional yet frivolous journey through the Chicken Ranch.

The musical is based on the book by Larry L King, which was inspired by the real-life Chicken Ranch which operated in La Grange from 1905 to 1973. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Miss Jessie started to accept one chicken as payment for each sexual act. The chicken population soon exploded, giving the brothel its name, and Miss Jessie supplemented her income by selling eggs. At its height, the ranch earned $500,000 per year, with the girls each keeping a further $300 per week each, charging $15 for 15 minutes.

The Chicken Ranch of the show is a brothel that that has been running for over 100 years. The central character, Miss Mona (Sarah Lark – Oliver, Mamma Mia), the brothel’s madam (although she would never call herself that), is a straight-talking no-nonsense lady with a good sense of right and wrong. There is a genuine affection between Miss Mona and her girls, which is in stark contrast to the unaffectionate intimacy they sell. When the ever-crusading and larger-than-life television personality, Melvin P Thorpe, highlights the activities of the Chicken Ranch, the local politicos have no option but to close the local institution down.

Immediately upon entering the Union Theatre, you are taken to the fictional Texas town of Gilbert. The set is highly effective and sets the mood perfectly for the show. Cowboys wander around the stage area and there is none of that awkward silence while you’re waiting for a show to start – this one starts before you even walk in!

Richard Jones’ choreography on this production was a delight to watch. Lively, frisky and definitely raunchy in places, it accurately portrayed the feel of what was happening in Miss Mona’s establishment. The cast were excellent and moved with precision around a sometimes quite crowded stage. The sex scenes were handled in such a way that, although one is left in no doubt what is happening, you could watch it with your parents without feeling awkward.

Vocally, this cast is very strong, and their individual voices shine through. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel their voices always worked well together, although this was only on a couple of notes so do not allow this to detract from the otherwise excellent vocals.

From the cast of 24, a few overall performances stood out; namely those from Sarah Lark, Patrick George, Frankie Jenna, Jamie Papanicolaou, Nancy Sullivan, Lindsay Scigliano, Sasi Strallen and Stephanie Tavernier, but this in no way reflects badly on those I haven’t mentioned – all play their roles hugely effectively and each one shone at times.

I hate to bring up a negative point after such a wonderful show, but there is an issue at the Union Theatre that should be addressed, and that is of the seating. The view from many seats is quite limited and a slight tiering system would work wonders here. I found my view of centre-stage blocked for the majority of the show, so I would advise anyone going to see this to arrive early and sit on the front row.

Overall though, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is lively and fun. You’ll laugh, you might even shed a tear in places, but you’ll leave feeling fulfilled on just about every emotional level while humming some great tunes. And that’s what a great musical is about.

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas plays at the Union Theatre until 12 November. Tickets £17 from www.uniontheatre.biz

Review by Robin Foreman-Quercus

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