THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS -- At the Warner through March 1.
The establishment that plays the title role in "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" has aroused deeply divided feelings among the citizenry, it is reported at mid-musical. Half the people in town want to close it down, and the other half want to declare it a national momument.
The writers -- Larry L. King, who based the show on a non-fiction article he wrote for Playboy magazine, and Peter Masterson -- are clearly in favor of the latter. Their show is a spirited celebration of an old-fashioned concept of naughtiness.
Of course, they have to keep explaining why anyone would get exercised over the existence of a venerable brothel, in a time and town where a "massage parlor" is one of the more conventional pastimes legally available, and all the Peeping Toms are home watching television. But they manage to make a successfully appealing case for what might be called good clean dirtiness.
The conflict, as they put it, is between expedient hypocrisy, consisting of looking the other way, and unctuous hypocrisy that takes pleasure in disrupting the pleasures of others. The stylistic conflict is between robust vulgarity and smirking suggestiveness.
It takes a lot to get this fine distinction across -- valiantly bittersweet songs, dancing that is bursting with enthusiasm, and funny dialogue of the kind that used to be called "colorful" when President Lyndon Johnson used it (and no one would report publicity exactly what he'd said).
But mostly it takes sure-footed acting. The production at the Warner has this.All the cute singing and dancing the young people do wouldn't mean anything if the show were not carried by an older generation representing, with dignity, wickedness against modern degeneracy. Alexis Smith, as the businesswoman whose business everyone is getting into, and William Hardy, as her friend the sheriff, have the command to take their roles just beyond caricature into the suggestion of character. Two lesser roles, a tap-dancing governor played by Tom Avera and the "Watchdog News" reformer played by Larry Hovis, stay with caricature, but it is good caricature, just as the show is good clean dirt.