Chicken Ranch Rides Again at Montgomery College

Years ago, before “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” became a major Broadway show and blockbuster movie, it was a delicious off-Broadway musical. I had the pleasure of entertaining some Texas friends in New York with a visit to that production, and none of us has ever forgotten this little gem of a show. In my opinion, the Broadway and movie versions that followed were over-produced and lost the subtle charms of the original. But I will not make that charge about the adorable student production currently playing in the beautiful theater of Montgomery College. Director, Jami Hughes, has captured what was lost.

In spite of its racy title, the show has a sweet innocence about it. And speaking of innocence, just prior to the curtain, a young boy behind me read phonetically from his program. “Best Little War House in Texas. What’s that?” he asked his Mom. The quick thinking parent responded “That’s the name of the show.” My own Mom has long lamented the loss of subtlety in contemporary plays and films. This show brings it back.

Set and Lighting Designer, David Marco, gives us clever twin staircases. They lead to the “heaven” of the girls’ rooms upstairs, and play well throughout the production. The opening number briefly frightened me as there seemed to be microphone problems and a general lack of focus. It even seemed, for a moment, that the performers were going to voice-over a sound track. My fears were proved groundless as the “madam,” Miss Mona (Kim Bryant), got the ball rolling with “A Lil’ Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place.” Her flamboyant red saloon dress with, crimson feather boa, was just one of many great costume designs from Sahar Mouallem. Bryant moves with grace, and brings a brassy energy to the show. As her “girls” assemble, there is zesty costume variety. Linda Lou, (played by the show’s choreographer, Kara Moon), turns up the heat as she guides the girls in some wonderful dance routines. Miss Mona’s touching “Girl You’re A Woman” gets good support from Shy (played by Beth Bowen), Jewel (Mandy Moss) and the girls, as the confidence of the young cast seems to build before our eyes.

Then the real fun begins! Enter Melvin P. Thorpe (Lorne Kelly) in the role most agree is based on Houston’s own broadcaster, Marvin Zindler. Kelly is a comic powerhouse who brings hilarity to the show. And his outlandish wigs and costumes are almost as funny as he is. Known in TV land as “Watchdog” his riotous, blue-satined , high-stepping, back-up singers are the “dogettes!” The “Texas Has A Whorehouse In It” number that follows is a knockout! Then Moss is smoky and sultry as she leads the gals in a “Twenty-four Hours of Lovin’ ” that made me wonder if she was a gospel singer in some previous incarnation.

The fun reaches new heights with the arrival of Sheriff Ed Earl (Chris Thomas). He enters in a hilarious state of high-energy aggravation. His rapid-fire delivery was dazzling; and with his fine voice, every word was audible throughout the house. In the coffee shop scene, Thomas proves he is a natural comic and fine actor. He could have carried this bombastic role on Broadway, and might want to consider changing his Architecture major to Theater. The coffee shop waitress, sweetly played by Karliana Morrow, vocally steals the scene with the plaintive and tender “Doatsey Mae.” Cheerleaders and sportscasters are gently spoofed in the “Angelette March,” with clever and amusing performances from Michelle Gomez as Imogene Charlene, and Kyle Kutter as Chip Brewster. The Aggies are rowdy and lusty as they bring great dancing to their “Aggie Song.” These guys could do “Oklahoma” or “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” And when the boys arrive at Miss Mona’s, oh, what fashions await them! Mona’s gleaming, gold gown alone has probably caused a sequin shortage!

The Governor, (Bill Jack Davis) does a merry “Sidestep” in the hilarious company of Senator Wingwoah (David Kerr). Mr. Thomas offers a low-key, but very natural vocal quality in “Good Old Girl,” and is joined by a very smooth Aggie chorus. The band and Musical Director, David Englert, also earned high marks. Mona’s “Bus From Amarillo” brings the show in for a soft and gentle landing.

Wilkerson Middle-schooler, Blake Hinton, had high praise for the show. “I have to admit this was better than the ‘Smack Down’ wrestling I missed on TV tonight!”

(The Courier    4.12.00)

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About The People's Critic

David Dow Bentley III, writes columns about the performing arts which are featured in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast. A member of the Lambs Club, he is also editor of The Lambs' Script. Mr. Bentley may be contacted via e-mail at ThePeoplesCritic@earthlink.net.
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