The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

(Sunnybank Theatre Group)


Ive always penned new-age burlesque as a strip show you can take your girlfriend to and Best Little Whorehouse in Texas falls almost in that same category, albeit the shedding of clothes and better singing.

The musical is based on a true story involving a Texan whore house that operated for over 60 years but was eventually shutdown by a TV reporter named Marvin Zindler in 1973. The whorehouse was nicknamed The Chicken Ranch because the prostitutes would accept chickens as payment during the Great Depression.

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas tells the tale of the TV reporters quest to shutdown the Chicken Ranch. Miss Mona Stangley (Lesley Davis) runs the brothel and is strict in her rules to keep the Chicken House respectable while keeping good relations with Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd (Marc James).

Business is going well until TV evangelist Melvin P Thorpe (Troy Granzien) starts snooping around and rallying people to shut down the Chicken Ranch. Troy Granzien embodies the irritating evangelist exceptionally well with his ol boy southern accent and corny smile that makes you want to punch him where it hurts.

In a musical full of wit, the best line has to go to Deon Spann as the Texan Governor who answers in response to a question about the situation in the Middle East: I think those Jews and Arabs should settle their disputes in a good Christian manner. It flew over a few peoples heads but I had a good chuckle.

Lesley Davis strong voice flies above the musical numbers and the harmonies are right on the money for both the men and women. Lesley Davis, Ashley Worsman, Ashleigh Harrie and Vicky Devon took care of the choreography and did a good job of it. Well executed musical numbers are the difference between amateur and professional theatre so its good to see they have put a lot of effort in to them.

Led by Matthew Bass, the band powers through each song confidently and hits all the right notes, never missing a cue. Bringing the flighty woodwind sound to country music, Sophie Cooper on clarinet is a nice touch.

Most of the actors pull off their Southern accents seamlessly however the few actors that have not quite mastered the voice stand out like a cow in a pig pen. This can be pretty distracting especially when someone slips in and out of an accent during a song.

As director Deirdre Robinson points out in her notes, the story pokes fun at the hypocrisy of civic officials and their double standards. The story does touch on these issues but is much more about having a good time at the theatre than a political satire. Certainly the Governors character shows all the traits of a hypocritical politician.

There is a little swearing and some skimpy outfits but it’s all in good fun. The jokes are great, the musics great and the set is incredible. Designer Ben van Trier and builders Mark Zoethout and John Mordacz have done an amazing job to create this working set.

There is so much packed into this musical its truly amazing a small theatre group in Sunnybank can create such an experience and says volumes about the dedication of all involved. If theres one musical about a Texan whorehouse you see this year, make it this one. YEE HAW!

— Rhys McRae
(Performance seen: Tue 12th May 2009)