The 1970s were a high-water mark for “porno chic” in the United States, and the Broadway stage, like the rest of popular culture, was far from immune from its influence (alongside the ongoing impact of the broader sexual revolution). This was perhaps most evident in the 1978 musical “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” a breezy, titillating comedy inspired by the real-life Texas story of La Grange’s own Chicken Ranch brothel.
Though the play itself is a relic of its time, with a revelry in its own naughtiness that takes the place of a narrative through line, TexArts’ new production of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” pushes to the forefront all of the show’s best elements, creating a fun romp that never ceases to entertain.
Larry L. King and Peter Masterson’s book of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” (based on a story by King) is something of a mess, with no coherent sense of structure and a first and second act that are incredibly tonally mismatched. Fortunately, the fun, flirty, infectious songs, written by Carol Hall, pick up the slack. Each of the numbers is fully realized and pushes its conceit to the limit, whether its emphasis is on bombast, bawdiness or brooding.
Director Sarah Gay wisely plays into these numbers, pushing each song to either absurdist or emotional extremes. In this sense, “The Best Little Whorehouse” plays out almost as a revue, with a loosely connected storyline. Each song is pushed to the limit by the committed cast, and it is quite enjoyable.
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Gay’s direction is also incredibly smart in the way that it de-emphasizes the overt sexuality of the whorehouse setting and either plays it for laughs or turns it into something whimsically flirtatious (a decision that owes its success, as well, to Kimberly Schafer’s charming-yet-sensual choreography and Colleen McCool-Pierce’s playfully revealing costumes).
TexArts’ “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” focuses on each individual scene and moment as its own unique entity, which requires a talented cast that is able to shift from comedy to pathos without much help from the script.
The somewhat large chorus, each playing multiple roles, get most of the show-stopping, toe-tapping moments, while leads Jarred Mallon (as Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd) and Christina Stroup (as Ms. Mona Stangley) have to do some of the hardest work of changing tonality from scene to scene. Corinna Browning (as Doatsy Mae), Joe Falocco (as Melvin P. Thorpe), and especially Roderick Sanford (as Jewel, a part usually played by a woman) each have show-stealing moments of their own, as well.
As far as story structure goes, “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” may leave you wanting more, but TexArts’ bouncy, energetic, fully committed production most certainly satisfies.
“The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday through Sept. 3
Where: 2300 Lohman’s Spur, Suite 160
Information: 512-852-9079, tex-arts.org.