The Little Theatre of Norfolk’s current production is The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, a stage musical that is based on a true story. Directed by Chris Hogan, this latest offering seems to suffer from an affliction that affects many plays in the local area; an irregularity of quality within the production. The problem is exacerbated by a strange irregularity in the script.
photos | big thanks to David Beloff
The plot is quite simple: in the town of Gilbert, Texas, Miss Mona (Carissa Robertson) runs a brothel, the Chicken Ranch, which is tolerated (and, in some cases, lauded) by the townspeople and the local sheriff, Ed Earl Dodd (Dave Hobbs). When a crusading television personality, Melvin P. Thorpe (Adam Ivey) makes an issue of the illegal activity, pressure builds at a local and statewide level to close the house of ill repute.
With a book by Larry L. King and Peter Masterson, and music and lyrics by Carol Hall, the play is based on a story that King wrote that was inspired by the happenings at the real-life Chicken Ranch, a bordello in the town of La Grange, Texas. True stories often yield great results for books, plays, and movies, but since actual happenings are rarely neat, writers must shape the narrative by deciding what aspects of the story they wish to emphasize. I’m not familiar with the source material, so I don’t know what events were added or subtracted (if any). I do know that the show is wildly uneven in tone and style. Is it a rollicking, goofy good time or an introspective meditation regarding the paths people’s (particularly women’s) lives take? It seems to be trying to be both. Perhaps both sides of this theatrical coin can be showcased effectively, but they are certainly not in this production.
Regarding stage musicals, people often think of elaborate production numbers involving many cast members, and this show has quite a few. Unfortunately, these attempts at spectacle lack focus and polish, and the singers are often difficult to understand. The quieter moments in the show are the times when the performances really shine. Three songs stand above the rest; “Doatsy Mae,” sung by Kristi Caras, “Good Old Girl,” by Dave Hobbs and the men of the ensemble, and “The Bus from Amarillo,” by Robertson’s Miss Mona. The actors perform these pieces not just with their clear, pleasing voices, but with their acting abilities as well.
The technical aspects of the production also display inequality. The sets, lighting, and costumes can best be described as adequate, with the choreography generally unimpressive. But the sound design and music direction are superlative. The individuals making up the orchestra (Shelley Cady, Eddie Lawhorn, Tom Ullom, Doug Mills, Jordan Cady, Vinny Frevele, Summer Cozzens, and Andre Magalhaes) are heard as a cohesive, well balanced whole due to the excellent mixing and the fact that the group is heard through the theatre’s speakers, instead of simply being heard from behind the stage.
So there are several elements to the production which recommend it and just as many that do not, but I think that it is worth sitting through the rougher segments to witness the choice scenes and moments that are present.
For more info or tickets, click here. The show runs through September 27, 2015; Friday/Saturday 8:00 PM; Sunday 2:30 PM.