For more than a century, the small town of Gilbert, Texas, was known as “a little bitty place” with “lots of good will and maybe one small thrill.”
It’s that “one small thrill” that causes a huge ruckus in Camelot Theatre’s upcoming musical comedy “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”
It’s the story of television reporter and would-be crusader Melvin P. Thorpe who turns the spotlight on The Chicken Ranch — Gilbert’s infamous brothel. Miss Mona Stangley, the proprietor of the legendary pleasure palace, and the town’s “upstanding” citizens, including local sheriff Ed Earl Dodd, don’t take too kindly to Thorpe’s campaign to shutter the century-old landmark that’s a home away from home for politicians and Texas A&M Aggie football players. His righteous indignation stirs up a hornet’s nest and creates a lot of hootin’ and hollerin.’
“It’s over-the-top, for sure, with a bunch of crazy characters, including the funny, zany evangelical Thorpe,” says director Shawn Ramagos.
Played for more than just kicks and giggles, the musical takes potshots at censorship, moral hypocrisy and media sensationalism.
Performances are set for 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 23 at the theater, 101 Talent Ave., Talent.
Tickets are $29 to $36 and can be purchased at camelottheatre.org, at the box office, or by calling 541-535-5250.
Gilbert, dubbed “an incorporated sand trap” by wishy-washy mayor and car salesman Rufus Poindexter, is the backdrop for the political satire.
Playwrights Larry L. King and Pete Masterson wrote the book based on a story King wrote for Playboy magazine in 1974 about the real-life Chicken Ranch in LaGrange, Texas. The character of Melvin Thorpe is based on Houston news personality Marvin Zindler, who made activities at The Chicken Ranch a political hotbed.
“The scenes may be dated, but the issues are very much today’s,” Ramagos says.
This musical opened on Broadway in June 1978, ran for 1,584 performances, collected nine Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical, and four Drama Desk Award nominations. Composer Carol Hall won the 1979 Drama Desk Award for her music and lyrics.
A film version, starring Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton, followed in 1982.
Ramagos says that Camelot’s production stays true to the original stage production as far as content — “nothing’s been censored” — and Hall’s music and lyrics that audiences “fell in love with” so many years ago.
Tunes such as “Bus from Amarillo” and “24 Hours of Loving” are just some of the songs “that’s made the show so much fun all these years,” he says.
Working with choreographer Carrie Ann, Ramagos incorporates different dance forms into the song and dance numbers, including Cajun two-step and Irish two-step. Tap dancing and a Bob Fosse-like chair sequence also are included.
“The audience will be surprised,” he says, adding that the chair sequence and the “hilarious” Aggie dance number are among his favorites.
Camelot newcomer Cyd Ropp plays the strong-willed, amiable Miss Mona Stangley and Maxwell Bruhn the clip-on-bandanna-wearing muckraker Melvin P. Thorpe. Lanny Horn is Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd, the self-assigned protector of the “ladies of the evening.” Jeff Mercer has the dual roles of Mayor Rufus Poindexter and a Texas A&M “Aggie” football player.
The ensemble cast includes Ellyannah Clausen, Noah Fitterer, Stephen Gleffe, Alex Hume, Rebecca Jimenez, Adam Kilgore, Meagan Kirby, Melanie Marie, Eoghan McDowell, Gary Plano, John Richardson, Simone Stewart, Emily Sullivan, Rebekka Swan, Taelor Viera and Shaina Wyatt.
Garret Bond is the musical director. Conductor and pianist Don Hopkinson Jr. is accompanied by Geo Betus on bass, percussionist Collin Braley, guitarist Taran McQuire, Aaron Moffat on violin and viola, and pianist Scott Soltermann.
Darby McCue, who created the elaborate costumes for Camelot’s production of “Priscilla,” was brought back to work her magic for this show, Ramagos says.
Bart Grady handles lighting chores with Brian O’Connor engineering sound and video.
“The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” is recommended for mature audiences only because of its adult situations, language and gunshot sound effects.
Reach Grants Pass freelancer Tammy Asnicar at firstname.lastname@example.org.