Walterdale Playhouse sets out to tackle a sassy romp on the world’s oldest profession in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, opening this Wednesday.
With society’s shifting sensibilities, taking on such subject matter can be a delicate task. But director Kristen Finlay has a solid vision about where to take this ensemble musical with a cast of 30.
“I like doing shows that are saucy. I’ve worked with a lot of community theatres. But many won’t go near something this risquĂ©. Walterdale is willing to take the risks with edgier plays. And I like what it says about women being strong,” Finlay says.
For anyone who has never seen the 1982 film version with Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds, the musical looks at the softer side of the sex trade.
Set at the Chicken Ranch in La Grange, Texas, Best Little Whorehouse is based on a true story. During the Great Depression, pleasure seekers apparently paid for sexual escapades with poultry instead of cash, leading to the nickname ‘chicken ranch.’
Miss Mona Stangley, the kind-hearted madam who operates a clean business, takes the girls under her wing and has a reputation for customer satisfaction. The ranch enjoys the protection of sheriff Ed Earl Dodd who also has a relationship with Miss Mona. But their cosy life is upended when Melvin P. Thorpe (based on a real-life Houston news personality) crusades to shut down the ranch.
On the surface, composer Carol Hall’s 14-song musical is loaded with sexual playfulness, a sure-fire crowd pleaser. But the underlying themes of prostitution, family dynamics, ambition, changing times and the power of the media linger throughout.
“It feels more relevant today. We find out so much information faster. If we had known about Kennedy and his affairs, would he even have a career today? And then there’s the whole culture of paparazzi and how it can ruin lives.”
St. Albert Children’s Theatre alumnus David Johnston revels in playing the bad guy, an upstart who hopes to boost his ratings.
“Melvin is one of those guys who dials it up to 11. He’s a combo of a southern Baptist preacher and a televangelist and he’s completely over the top. Fortunately I’ve been given the freedom to go big and not worry about modulation,” Johnston says.
Another children’s theatre alumnus, Josh Languedoc, has landed a string of mini-roles as a travelling salesman, Melvin’s follower and a football player. But it’s a misnomer to believe the chorus puts less into the show than the leads.
One of the most taxing moments is when a team of football players visits the ranch singing The Aggie Song, a show-stopping country tune. Languedoc explains, “We bend knees and do heel clicks. We build pyramids and leap into each other. It’s physically exhausting and it leaves us sweating.”
From the cast’s enthusiasm, the show makes it easy to get hooked. Johnston adds, “The music is good. The songs are smart. The cast is firing on all cylinders and it’s thought-provoking.”
Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
July 7 to 17
10322 – 83 Ave.
Tickets: $14-$18. Call 780-420-1757 or buy online at www.tixonthesquare.ca