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A review by Richard J Thornton for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

 

Aria EntertainmentASH Productions LIVE Ltd   and   Paul Taylor-Mills   present by arrangement with   Samuel French Ltd

 

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

 

 

Book by Larry L. King & Peter Masterson

Music & Lyrics by Carol Hall

Directed by Paul Taylor-Mills

 

Union Theatre

 

18 October - 12 November 2011

 

The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas is the story of how Miss Mona and her discreet, tasteful, high-moralled brothel are closed down by the heartless, self-loving religious TV show host Melvin P. Thorpe. It's a paradoxical battle where the would-be righteous are twisted and the ostensibly vulgar are looking after the needs of the community. It’s an odd comparison to make - the themes of the show surprisingly reflect the current battle between the Occupy protesters and the right-wing media. The Express's 'crusade' to rid the noble (but willing) St Paul’s of the 'hateful' community gathering at its steps mirror's the self-righteous Thorpe's aggressive reporting tactics against a community which the town's public outwardly shun, but are inwardly grateful for.

The production itself captures the Deep South's most gaudy heel-spur state via a fairy showering of over-styled cowboys and negliged whore-dolls, all flitting about a soulful Miss Mona (Sarah Lark) and a farcical Sheriff (James Parkes). The sheer volume of flesh on stage makes you wonder if the director is trying to shroud quality with quantity. However, Taylor-Mills's choice to push his lead male roles, the Sheriff and Thorpe, into eccentric caricatures is his cleverest. Parkes' detailed annunciation of his well-written 'you-can't-fool-the-Sheriff' metaphors (‘Don't piss on my boots and tell me it’s a thunderstorm’) are as crisp as a Woody pull-my-cord figurine. And Leon Craig's exuberant entrance as the majestic Melvin P. Thorpe cracks a smile on even the most cynical 'my-kid's-in-the-show-and-I'm-here-aren't-I?' father.

The talent of the actors is clear from the first note: Lark's poise as the ‘don't-call-me-madam’ whore house hostess is the perfect arena to display her confidence, compassion and vulnerability. Even at their quietest, she holds the notes with aching magnetism, leading her troupe of girls with the zest and authority of a cabaret queen. Frankie Jenna's sass as Angel opens the show with immediate personality and draw, her over-played expressions and actions are custom fit to the realm of musical, and set a bar which many of the other supporting roles fail to match. Craig's panache for vile self-pruning as the globular Thorpe is as powerful a character as South Park's Big Gay Al, and his electricity on stage is worth mentioning twice. Kudos must also be given to Tony Longhurst's Senator Wingwoah for his ability to characterise duplicitousness and the art of the malleable politician in a few short cameos.

The biggest shortfall of the production was the sprawling loose ends it left. After introducing Angel and Shy as the naughty and nice heroine duo, the characters fall into the company only to reappear for a brief farewell at the denouement. The introduction misleads the audience, not via intrigue, but by a decision to favour spectacle over character development. Admittedly, musicals often do this, but rarely do they spend careful time warming the audience to what could be quite interesting characters only to forget about them in favour of introducing a thousand more. It's as if the writer was commissioned to pen a drama school production and had a quota of thirty roles to fill so that no one's parents would be disappointed.

There are moments of the show which showcase Richard Jones's fine choreography (the tap-dance on the bed scene) and Kingsley Hall's transmutable design (vertical bedroom action), but often the piece feels more like a montage of talent show sketches rather than a well-woven drama. All in all, The Best Whorehouse in Texas is a more inventive musical than most, but still lacks the originality to spark the mind (or body) out of the mundane.

 

 
 
Box Office: 020 7261 9876 / www.uniontheatre.biz
Union Theatre
204 Union St
SE1 0LX
London
Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30pm, Sunday 2pm / 6pm, 18th Oct - 12th Nov
Tickets: £17
 

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