Friday, September 28, 2012

Don’t Mess With Texas: "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" at the Signature Theatre

By Mark A. Newman

Despite a game cast and charming design, the Signature Theatre’s production of late 1970s chestnut, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas makes for a dull night at the theatre. Don’t get me wrong, Signature has put on some amazing productions that should have seen the lights of the Broadway stage — Chess, The Visit, and Les Miserables, to name a few — but the first show of the 2012-2013 season is a relic from another time that has lost its relevance in the intervening decades.

While I can appreciate the thought of trying to breathe new life into something so old and creaky, this is a patient that died back when Reagan was still in office and does not need to be resurrected. Signature stalwart Sherri L. Edelen takes on the role of Miss Mona the madam with a heart of gold. As genius as Edelen’s comic timing has been in other shows, Miss Mona simply doesn’t allow her to shine. Musically she was spot on but Edelen needs a more multi-faceted and fun character to work with.

That was probably my biggest issue with Whorehouse: the characters were barely developed and those that were, well, stopped being developed. For example, the show starts with two new aspiring girls showing up at the house wanting jobs. One is an innocent farm girl whose daddy took a shine to her (ewww) and the other was an experienced call girl from, ahem, Galveston. Promising start, no? Promising finish? No. These two characters were pretty much abandoned by the middle of the first act.

Admittedly my only familiarity with this property prior to seeing it on the Signature stage is the campy movie starring Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton from 1982, and I was none too fond of that either. But at least the characters were better defined in the film. Plus you had Dom DeLuise who never disappoints. Wish I could say the same for this lackluster show.

I can’t really lay all the blame on the show’s creators; at times the cast seemed to be “going through the motions” somewhat. During the one big dance number toward the end of the first act there were more than a few missed steps and the timing was way off. Also, the characters didn’t seem to connect to one another which is odd considering they were all from this tiny Texas town.

Despite my mostly adverse reaction to the show, the scenic design by Collin Ranney was nicely done with lots and lots and LOTS of red throughout the able-bodied set that served the action well. Colin K. Bill’s lighting and the costumes by Kathleen Geldard also contributed to the show’s antiquated look and feel but in a good way. Speaking of antiquated, it was difficult to tell exactly when Whorehouse was taking place; I thought I heard the year as 1972, and the costumes would indicate as much. But there was a reference to “The Gong Show” which didn’t premiere until 1976. 

However, regardless of the “when,” the bigger question is “why” as in why would such a reputable company pick such a lackluster show to start off its season? With such a simplistic, mediocre score and poorly developed characters, maybe Signature was bound to have a misstep…and I’m not just talking about the dancers clattering on the boards in cowboy boots.

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

Featuring: Sherri L. Edelen (Miss Mona), Christopher Bloch (Melvin P. Thorpe), Thomas Adrian Simpson (Ed Earl), Nova Y. Payton (Jewel), with Jay Adriel, Madeline Botteri, Brianne Camp, Matt Conner, Erin Driscoll, Jamie Eacker, Nadia Harika, Davis Hasty, Benjamin Horen, David Christopher Jennings, Vincent Kempski, Dan Manning, Amy McWilliams, Gannon O’Brien, Tracy Lynn Olivera, Nora Palka, Maria Rizzo, Stephen F. Schmidt, Stephen Gregory Smith, and Tamara Young.

Book by Larry L. King & Peter Masterson
Music & Lyrics by Carol Hall
Scenic Design: Collin Ranney
Costume Design: Kathleen Geldard
Lighting Design: Colin K. Bills
Sound Design: Matt Rowe
Music Direction: Gabriel Mangiante
Choreography: Karma Camp
Directed by Eric Schaeffer

Signature Theatre
4200 Campbell Avenue
Arlington, VA 22206

Tickets: 703 820 9771; Ticketmaster: 703 573 SEAT

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