Riverside Dinner Theater The Best Little Whorehouse in TexasBy Jennifer Gusso • Mar 31st, 2011 • Category: Reviews
Riverside Dinner Theater
Riverside Dinner Theater, Fredericksburg, VA
Through May 1st
2:50 with intermission
$50-58/$46-52 Seniors/$40-42 Children
Reviewed March 25th, 2011
Believe it or not, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is based on actual events that occurred in the 1970s in Texas, when the television media exposed that there was a still-operating whorehouse in Texas, The Chicken Ranch. While the musical takes creative liberties, it raises the real question of whether the movement to close this ranch was actually for the better or worse. The proprietor (don’t call her a “madam”) takes good care of her employees, including health benefits; donates regularly to her community, and treats her girls and their “guests” with respect. Obviously, this production is not for everyone. There is some minimal language usage, very brief partial nudity, and a controversial subject matter. However, if you can handle a little controversy, then you should definitely make the time to see this incredible production with an incredibly catchy score (“Hard Candy Christmas” is guaranteed to be stuck in your head for days). Riverside Dinner Theater, once again, demonstrates that their high-quality, professional-caliber productions make them one of the best places to see productions in the DC Metro area.
The head of the Chicken Ranch, Miss Mona Stangley is portrayed by Kathy Halenda, and her performance is truly brilliant beyond words. This woman could take her place among the great divas of the Broadway stage. Her vocals were powerful, touching, and hauntingly beautiful. She commands the stage and every member of the cast and audience without ever over-acting or reaching to create that response. She is able to maintain a feeling of high-energy, while playing a character who is calm, cool, and gracefully strong. She has one monologue about where she was when Kennedy was assassinated that was so touching. Her timing is excellent, and she really becomes this woman. In the last scene, even when she doesn’t say much, you can tell exactly what she is thinking and feeling even in her silences. All of this leads up to her performance of “The Bus from Amarillo,” which in the last moments, shows that, just when you think she and the production couldn’t get any better, they do.
The other incredible standout performance in the production came from Sheri Hayden as Doatsey Mae. In just two scenes, she created a likeable and believable character, and her performance of “Doatsey Mae” was outstanding. She has a voice that is so sweet and warm that you are absolutely memorized. All of the other women were truly outstanding as well. In “Hard Candy Christmas,” each of the women finally gets a chance to show off her incredible voice. Each of the women also do a great job of creating her own little character throughout the piece. Especially enjoyable are Sarah Pruden as Angel, Brittnie Worley as Shy, and Andrea Kahane as Ginger. Kimberly Knight’s Jewel is very good, and she really gets to strut her stuff in “Twenty-Four Hours of Lovin’.”
The men are not quite as strong as the women, but, then again, it is really the female characters that run the show in this production. This is not to say, however, that the men are not very, very good. They are very, very good; these women just set the bar incredibly high. Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd was portrayed by Chris Gillespie. Throughout I wanted to see a little more depth from him, and there was a glimpse of that during “Good Old Girl.” Although, in the end, it may have just been that there is not much depth to Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd. He gave a solid performance and has a lovely voice. The other men also gave solid performances. The male ensemble especially wowed with their choreography during “The Aggie Song.” Robert L. Nelson was quite enjoyable as the Governor in his number “The Sidestep.”
The set and the costumes were detailed, appropriate, and professional. The lighting was actually a complete design that created moods and enhanced the choreography. Riverside does not forget the power of really using lighting as something more than making the stage visible. There was an especially neat moment when all the lights were black, and flashlights were used. The choreography was incredible. Each number had a unique style and was creative. The cast was so well-prepared that no one missed a step.
Sometimes, the best compliment you can give a Director is that his or her presence was unseen. When something doesn’t flow or work, that is when we see the Director in the cracks between the flaws. When a production is a little too over-rehearsed and mechanical, we see the Director’s too-heavy grip. However, when the Director has best done his or her job, we see something that feels so natural and spontaneous that the Director just disappears from view. Patrick A’Hearn is almost never visible in this production. The only slight critique that I have is the decision to add “I Will Always Love You” at the end. A’Hearn explained that it was because of audiences expecting to hear the song since it had been added in the movie. However, I think the script is stronger and the character of Miss Mona is consistent if she never actually says those words and “The Bus from Amarillo” remains the end. I think A’Hearn could have trusted that his production and cast were so good that the audience would forget about expecting to hear “I Will Always Love You.”
The bottom line is: “Texas Has a Whorehouse in It,” and you need to hurry and see it before time runs out.
Photos provided by Riverside Dinner Theater
Disclaimer: Riverside Dinner Theater provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/6362.
Jennifer Gusso has been involved in theatre in the state of Maryland and DC for most of her life. She has acted, directed, choreographed, stage managed, and held a million other odd jobs. She has a B.S. in English from Towson University, and is currently pursuing her Master's Degree to become a Reading Specialist. She is a Maryland State Certified English, Theatre, Elementary, and Mathematics Educator. After teaching English and Drama for many years, she now teaches 6th grade Language Arts at Magnolia Middle School in Harford County, Maryland. She wrote the curriculum currently used in Prince George’s County Public Schools for Drama I and Drama II. She now writes and directs plays and musical for use in church.