THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS, a musical with book by Peter Masterson and Larry L. King, music and lyrics by Carol Hall; choreographed by Tommy Tune; co-directed by Peter Materson and Tommy Tune; scenery by Marjorie Kellogg; costumes by Gary Jones; lighting by Beverly Emmons.
With Alexis Smith, Larry Hovis, William Hardy, Marilyn J. Johnson, Tom Avera, Barbara Marineau, Joseph Warren, Rebecca Seay, Robert Moyer, Valerie Austyn, Mimi Bessette and Ruth Gottschall.
At the Warner Theatre through March 1.
Forget Darryl Royal. Forget John Connally. Forget Denton Cooley and his heart transplants. Forget every oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico and every pink Cadillac on the streets of Houston.
There's a Texas beyond the one that rests on the Rio Grande and plays host to all these bizarre elements. It's much uglier, much prettier, and much more entertaining. It's the state that exists in Larry L. King's head and, more or less, on the stage of the Warner Theater, where "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" opened last night.
Mind you, this is not a particularly elegant specimen of the musical comedy art form.It is, for one thing, a lot more comic than musical. Some of the numbers have a certain gosh-what-kin-we-do-fer-a-song-now flavor to them, and after we've heard the first few lines of a lyric, we tend to hear them repeated as the next few and the next after that. But Tommy Tune's choreogrpahy, the lively book by King and Peter Masterson, and a crackling good cast make up for just about all that would otherwise ail this production.
"The Best Little Whorehouse" is certainly the best musical ever derived from an article in Playboy magazine. It was for Playboy that King first told the obstensibly true tale of a poor little old harmless small-town Texas brothel done in by the posturing righteousness of a few do-gooders.
As adapted for the stage, the Chicken Ranch -- so named because, during Depression days, customers used to pay in poultry -- is the sort of house of ill repute with "a set of rules just a shade less rigid than the 10 Commandments." As Miss Mona carefully instructs two new hires, patrons are not to be referred to as "Johns" or "tricks" but as "guests."
"We make 'em feel at home without making 'em feel at home," she explains.
Is this truly representative of the state of bordello management in Texas -- or anywhere? One hesitates to doubt the word of a journalist, which King is, but a sneaking suspicion lingers that "The Best Little Whorehouse" may not be the absolute last word on the subject.It is, however, a very funny interim word, very stylishly delivered.
The villains and fools of the piece -- and it abounds with them -- are acted with particular vigor. William Hardy makes a poignant as well as comic figure of Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd, an old-fashioned, easy-going lawman who complains, "I ain't caught me a peepin' Tom in this town for 22 years 'cuz they all home watchin' the goddamn television." Larry Hovis, whose wrinkled and bewigged face looks, in the show, like a raisin wrapped in a piece of chewing gum, is splendidly overwrought as the crusading Melvin P. Thorpe, editor of "Watchdog News." And Tom Avera, as the governor who won't take a stand, not only acts but dances the role to the hypocritical hilt in his combination saddle-and-tap shoes.
On the other, more amiable side of the law, Alexis Smith is just about the sleekest madam that ever was, even if her short hair seems a little more characteristic of the performer than the part. In general, this cast will go a long way toward undoing the damage done to Broadway's reputation by several recent road companies -- "A Chorus Line" and "Timbuktu" comes to mind -- that were pale imitations of their originals.
And the Warner has gone a long way toward correcting its own reputation as an acoustical calamity. Last night the sound, though heavily amplified, was loud, clear and well-balanced throughout, and there was none of the distracting ventilation-related roar that has marred past Warner attractions.
"The Best Little Whorehouse" is a country musical, with a snappy little country band that includes a fiddlr and, in the person of Bradley Clayton King, (the co-author's son), a narrator/guitarist. Unfortunately for the band -- and the audience -- it must have been no easy task to find the right country-western musical counterpoint to the raunchy, cynical attitude of the book -- and Carol Hall hasn't found it. Several songs, including a number called "24 Hours of Lovin'" that is rousingly rendered by Marilyn J. Johnston, are utterly irrelevant to the story. Others are merely contrived.
And Tune's dances -- especially the "Angelette March" in which we creates a whole kick-line of Texas Aggie cheerleaders with only six live dancers and 12 cooperative mannequins -- are dazzling.
Be warned, however: There is foul language in "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." They say there's some of that in Texas, too.