Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Theatre Droppings: Chicken And Beef(cake)

I'm back in DC for a week or so, before beginning work on my next project which will keep me in New York well into December.  One of the first items on my District agenda was to pay a visit to the Chicken Ranch, as portrayed in Signature Theatre's country-twanged revival of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
All the poster art for Signature's production features my friend Jamie Eaker, who played one of my wives in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat a few years ago.  She traded her caftan for a teddy.
This particular show has held interest for me for quite a while, ever since I heard the original cast album (which, get this, I have on vinyl!). 
Sherri Edelen as Miss Mona

There is nothing particularly innovative about the music, but something about it stuck with me, and I've been a fan ever since.  The show is not revived very often, as it requires a large chorus of hot hookers and hunky hoofers, and I doubt very many high schools present it as their spring musical. 
The Texas Aggies football team wins a graduation trip to the Chicken Ranch after the big Thanksgiving game.  Nobody in the audience complains that none of them have buttons on their flannel shirts.
I saw the film, of course, which provided one of my precious Dance Party entries, you can go here to see it.  Until now, though, I had never seen a live production of the stage show.

Signature Theatre has taken a little bit of slack for choosing to revive this piece, which had a long life in its original production but is now considered a fairly minor musical. 
An abused country girl arrives at the Whorehouse looking for
work in the show's first scenes. This promising plotline is
abandoned, a flaw in the original script.

The critic from the Washington Post, in particular, was quite dismissive in his assessment, though most other local press was positive, if not overly enthusiastic.  I enjoyed the show myself, though I can see the flaws in the writing I suppose. 
The scenic design was not as evocative as this picture suggests.  This stationary set was a bit overpowering, lending a brooding tint to an otherwise lightly bittersweet musical.
Sig's reasons for the revival, spelled out by director Eric Schaeffer in his program notes, ring absolutely true to me:  the overriding theme of the piece concerns the tendency of self-righteous publicity seekers to attempt to mandate their own versions of morality.  That tendency is much more prevalent today than it was in the 70s, when this musical was written.

Dan Manning hams it up as the Texas
governor, the role which earned
Charles Durning an Oscar nomination.
Regardless of the Post's reaction, I had a very good time at this Whorehouse.  The performances cannot be faulted (an ongoing triumph at Signature Theatre is their casting, which is almost always spot-on), beginning with our star, Sherri Edelen.  Sherri's Miss Mona is full of life, quick with the quip and down to earth to boot.  She shines throughout, and I particularly enjoyed her final ballad, which brought the show to a bittersweet conclusion.  (And her substantial decolletage should have been given its own bow at the curtain call.)
Nova Payton brings down the house with her number, igniting anxious anticipation of her upcoming performance as Effie in Dreamgirls.

Sherri's husband, Tom Simpson, is playing opposite her, as the sheriff who becomes overwhelmed by the public's outrage, and he is giving the standout performance, in my humble opinion. 
Husband and wife Simpson and
Edelen are leading musical players
in DC. Their easy chemistry was
a highlight of the show.

The fact that Tom played Don Quixote to my Sancho Panza several years ago has nothing to do with my admiration for his work here.  Believe me, I never allow my personal affection for my friends to color my opinion regarding their work.  The fact that my friends are always the best things in their shows is pure coincidence.
This high-stepping choreography caused my acquaintance Stephen Gregory Smith to splinter some foot bones. Beware the Texas Two Step!

Likewise, my cohorts from Joe's Coat a few years ago are also standouts in ensemble roles, including Erin Driscoll, Jamie Eaker, and Vinnie Kempsky. 
Erin Driscoll, another of my Joe's Coat
wives. She moves easily between
leading and supporting roles in DC's
musical scene.

Lots of comedy is mined by Chris Bloch and Dan Manning, as the TV reporter who blows the whistle on the Chicken Ranch, and the Governor of Texas, respectively.  Those are both character actors' dream roles, and I'd like a crack at them myself.  Maybe one day...