Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Best Little Whorehouse in Tigard

Colin Wood, Sharon Maroney, and Dan Murphy star in the
production at Broadway Rose Theatre Company.

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

Although the cultural gap between the average Portlander and a stereotypical Texan is wider than the Rio Grande, locals occasionally feel the need to get in touch with their inner good ol’ boys (‘n gals). Broadway Rose regularly caters to this curious predilection – this year with their sh*t-kickin’ production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Director Peggy Taphorn, just off a stunning turn with The Music Man, milks this particular heifer for all it’s worth; she and her outstanding cast and production team deliver a lively and entertaining evening despite the limitations of the script.

The story is astonishingly shallow, little more than a formulaic (if odd) vehicle for a whole lot of singing, dancing, and downright funny lines. A slimy television do-gooder and some slippery politicians successfully campaign to close down the Chicken Ranch, a notorious Texas brothel. Miss Mona, the madam (do NOT call her that to her face!) looks back longingly to her earliest days as a “pro” at the time of JFK’s inauguration. Her nostalgic recollections are not shared by Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd, her long-time protector and (sort of) boyfriend, who has much clearer memories of the Kennedy assassinations (JFK and Bobby).  Shy and Angel, newcomers to the Chicken Ranch, have sad stories that are never really developed – perhaps just as well, given the limited number of laughs to be found when daddy gets a little too sweet on his daughter. An assortment of other characters (football players, a houseful of whores, a waitress, cheerleaders, crusader Melvin P. Thorpe and Co., politicians, Jewel the whorehouse maid) sings and dances up a storm. The show works because this motley crew (beautifully supported by the always amazing band) sings and dances so well that the audience really doesn’t care about the story line.

Choreographer Jacob Toth has outdone himself - the male dance ensemble is as strong as any we have seen on a Broadway Rose stage. While a bit more mature than his fellow hoofers, Dan Murphy (playing Thorpe) kicks up his bootheels with the best of them, and adds his strong voice to the already powerful vocal group. The distaff side, whether playing cheerleaders or prostitutes, is just as good – and the combination of these fillies and stallions more than justifies the price of admission to this spicy Broadway Rodeo.

Emily Sahler (as the waitress) delivers perhaps the most moving song in the show, “Doatsey Mae,” with a lovely poignancy that makes us wish we knew more of her story. Carmen N. Brantley-Payne (Jewel) is a powerful soulful belter whose upbeat “24 Hours of Lovin’” keeps the audience wide awake (and reassures us that some women do it for love, not money).  Colin Wood (Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd) clearly earns “best actor” honors for the evening, and it’s a real shame that his fine voice is only featured in one solo. Wood and Sharon Maroney (as Miss Mona) create a weird but believable chemistry that enhances the show’s best (really only) consistent story line, and the audience gets to know these two characters well enough to care about their fates.

Clever set and lighting design allow the show to move seamlessly from whorehouse to locker room to restaurant to governor’s mansion, so the action never stops. Costumes are about what one would expect in a tasteful brothel, but Melvin P. Thorpe and his Dogettes are bedecked in truly over-the-top glitz befitting the spirit of his team of Limbaugh-esque crusaders.

Broadway Rose’s The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas runs through August 17th at Tigard High School’s Deb Fennell Auditorium.

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