Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
November 9, 2012
Yee-haw! Y’all better hustle on down to the Chicken Ranch, before it closes for good. Ya know it’s “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” just some nice, clean, down-home gals trying’ to put food on the table. But TV crusader Melvin P. Thorpe doesn’t find it so wholesome, even though it’s frequented by the sheriff, the Governor, a Senator and the entire football team. Still, Thorpe is determined to shut the place down.
You can get the whole sad saga — told in heart- thumpin ’, foot- stompin ’ song – right now at the Coronado Playhouse.
The story is more or less factual. It all happened in La Grange, Texas, in the 1970s. In fact, there’s a note in the program from the offspring of Marvin Zindler , on whom Melvin Thorpe was transparently based, saying that their Dad didn’t much like being remembered only for this dastardly deed, when he’d performed so many other good works for the Lone Star State. But he did allow himself to enjoy the show. And you probably will, too.
The Chicken Ranch had been in business for 150 years when Texas author Larry L. King wrote a story about it in Playboy magazine. The Broadway show, which opened in 1978, was based on that article, with a book by King and Peter Masterson and music and lyrics by Carol Hall . The movie, starring Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds, was released a few years later. It wasn’t deep or heavy, but it was Southern fried.
The show’s a little raunchy, as you might expect, but it’s mostly good clean cathouse fun, revealing the seamy side of small-town life, and the political fancy-dance side-stepping that occurs at all levels of government. It’s about private behavior vs. public law and the general hypocrisy of the populace, seeking out their own brand of pleasure and thumping their Bibles or unwrapping their Constitutions whenever it suits their needs. Things haven’t changed all that much.
This may be the biggest production ever at Coronado Playhouse, with Thomas Fitzpatrick helming a whopping cast of 31, backed by a thrumming 6-piece onstage band.
As Miss Mona, the tough-but-tender proprietress of the Ranch, Debbie David is pitch-perfect. She’s got the look, the edge, the twang and the chops. San Diego newcomer Heather Barton is a find as Mona’s worldly-wise assistant, and Jennie Gray Connard is a hoot as big-haired, big-hearted Angel, who rocks the show’s most memorable number, “Hard Candy Christmas.” Oddly enough, that was muckraking Marvin Zindler’s favorite song in the show that made him, however reluctantly, a legend.
The musical, its title and its subject matter are kinda legendary themselves. Well, they don’t call it ‘the world’s oldest profession’ for nothin ’.
“The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” runs through December 2 at the Coronado Playhouse.
©2012 PAT LAUNER