"The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," which opened last night for a return engagement on the Warner Theatre stage, is bawdy, raucous and rowdy. For some theatergoers -- and there have been enough fans to turn "TBLWIT" into a Broadway hit with a third national touring company now on the road -- this seems to be enough.
Granted a measure of raunchy charm, "The Best Little Whorehouse" will never do for Texas what another musical did for Oklahoma. It's less a musical comedy than a series of variety skits tenuously tied to Larry King's tale of a real incident that led to the closing of a well-visited Texas brothel dubbed the Chicken Ranch.
If the musical score and the lyrics are hardly inspired, "The Best Little Whorehouse" does have foot-stompin' bounce and an earthy gusto. As for the risque humor, the problem is not so much the coarse language. It's just that the lines are not that originally funny and depend too much on the sly sneer of sexual innuendo. When the madam talks about "working her way up from the bottom," it's not exactly lively wit.
Co-directors Peter Masterson and Tommy Tune manage to keep things moving at a snappy pace. And Tune has choreographed one striking dance number for the Angelette cheerleaders, with six dancers tripled to a chorus line of 18 as each is joined to a pair of balloon-bosomed, cardboard-faced mannequins. The Aggie football players, on their way to celebrate victory at the bordello, also have a rousing dance scene.
The music and lyrics from Carol Hall are merely serviceable. Too often the songs seemed to have been dropped in because someone decided it was about time for a song-and-dance routine.
Francie Mendenhall takes over the role of Miss Mona, the brothel madam, played by Alexis Smith in the earlier production here. She has a full-throated voice when it comes to a rouser like "Girl, You're a Woman" but also has the tender touch for the bittersweet "Bus From Amarillo." She has some elegant, sequined gowns to wear that would be more appropriate for 42nd Street than a whorehouse up a dirt road outside a small Texas town.
As the crusty, rough-hewn sheriff, Christophen Wynkoop has some of the best lines with his earthy metaphors and colorful language and brings feeling to the simple ballad "Good Old Girl." Steven Edwards is the vigilante TV newsman with the Watchdog followers who join in exposing the brothel. He gets every ounce of broad humor from the caricature role.
The country music band on stage, with Ernie Reed as the fiddler-narrator, helps the bounchy pace.
"The Best Little Whorehouse" is at the Warner through Jan. 4. You can see it on the stage before you see the movie with Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds -- if you can imagine that.