July 18, 2014 —
The Forestburgh Playhouse’s fourth offering of the season gives audiences an opportunity to see star Loretta Swit in a new light—as Miss Mona Stangley, the proprietor of a century-old brothel operating on the outskirts of the fictional Gilbert, Texas. Loosely based on real events, the “Chicken Ranch” was a well known house of ill repute and the goings-on during the show are also based on real people and real history. Set in the 1970s, the musical follows the story of Miss Mona, her girls and the campaign of Bible-thumping television reporter Melvin P. Thorpe to shut the place down. Thorpe, played with hilarious gusto by David Titus, is also based on an actual newsman, Houston-based Marvin Zindler, who may or may not have been as buffoonish as Titus’ zany portrayal.
The storyline in the show is somewhat thin, possibly in an effort to keep the facts alive, but with music and lyrics by Carol Hall heavily interspersed, character development is light, while singing and dancing take center stage. Dann Dunn’s direction and choreography serve the production well and the overall look of the show is very appealing. Mike Johnson’s scenic design is clever and colorful and works well, giving costume designer Ashleigh Poteat an opportunity to dress her performers in fun, frothy, sometimes risqué attire, befitting the overall theme. Lighting designer Michael Bert was also given an opportunity to shine, and he utilized the sets and some trickery to create some eye-popping effects that are also somewhat adult in nature. Musical Director Henry Lewers clearly had his musicians in line and the pit band, such as it is, sounded dandy.
As for the music itself, the score for “Whorehouse” is not really well-known. With no breakout hits to boast of and Hall’s less than memorable music and lyrics, the show is more visual than hummable. Titus’ show-stopping number (“Texas Has a Whorehouse In It”) is tremendous fun, due largely to the performer’s skills and a solid chorus of hard working kids, who knock it out of the ballpark every time they hit the stage. Some of the material is downright salacious in nature, and there were a few scenes that struck me as gratuitous, but it is, after all, a whorehouse. Swit is once again teamed with veteran actor Chris Van Cleave (as the sheriff) and the two have nice chemistry on stage. While Van Cleave’s accent was at times difficult to understand, his second-act solo “Good Old Girl” struck a chord and his plaintiff rendition of a sweet, soulful song was my favorite.
Abbey Sierakowski (as Doatsey Mae) Chiara Trentalange (as Angel) and Kerstin Anderson (as Shy) all have lovely voices, but again, there isn’t much time to develop their characters and the audience is asked to invest itself without a great deal to work with. That said, the actors are working hard and it shows. Miss Mona’s right-hand woman, Jewel, is brought to life by the talented Joy Lynn Jacobs and her big number, “Twenty-Four Hours of Livin,” is a showcase for Jacobs, strongly supported by the chorus girls. Without patrons, a brothel could not survive and “Whorehouse” has a slew of ‘em in the form of the men’s chorus, who sing and dance their way into the hearts of the audience, aided and abetted by a very funny turn from Alex Drost (as Governor Briscoe), Sal Polichetti’s amusing Mayor Poindexter, Hunter Brown’s sly, sexy bandleader and Harold Tighe’s comical pants-around-the-ankles Senator Wingwoah.
Front and center is Loretta Swit, who commands the stage as Miss Mona, mothering the girls and carrying a torch for the sheriff as the proverbial hooker with a heart of gold. While it’s unclear whether Miss Mona herself ever actually entertained “guests,” it is abundantly so that the character (and the woman upon whose life she’s based) had the ladies’ interests in mind and never really hurt anyone practicing the world’s oldest profession. Swit’s voice is probably not as strong as it once was, but her acting has not suffered over the years and she looked fantastic, strutting the stage in her cowgirl attire, occasionally joining in Dunn’s clever choreography. “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” is a sultry, seductive, sassy show simmering with sexuality, but above all else, simply entertaining. For tickets and information, go to www.FBPlayhouse.org  or call the box office at 845/794-1194.