After a week of performances, the new touring company of the 1978 hit “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” starring Ann-Margret, had ironed out some early kinks to deliver real entertainment value — a good thing, since its top ticket price of $71.50 is surprisingly high for Connecticut. The star may not yet have the full measure of the musical’s Miss Mona, but she acquits herself well for a woman making her stage debut at age 60, and there’s reason to believe that box offices around the country will benefit from her star power.
Ann-Margret is a bit handicapped by a lack of stage technique and know-how, but she’s working hard to overcome it. More at ease with song than dialogue, she projects a disarming vulnerability that’s appealing, even if this essential softness is at odds with the character of the tough madam Miss Mona.
Also problematic are her Las Vegas glitz costumes by Bob Mackie, which look as though they might have come from her concert wardrobe. They are inappropriate and serve to alienate her from the role, the cast and show. Appropriate costumes would certainly be of great help to her and her characterization.
With perseverance and hard work, the star will likely become less tentative and more in charge of her role as the tour continues. In any case, audiences aren’t being short-changed.
Playing opposite her as Miss Mona’s love interest, Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd, is Gary Sandy (TV’s “WKRP in Cincinnati”). He delivers a tremendously vigorous performance, tirelessly propelling the production and enthusiastically supporting his co-star. He does get a bit too aggressive and noisy in act two, and his perf would benefit from more light and shade, but his presence is a big plus.
Perhaps the most fully rounded performance is that of Roxie Lucas as the waitress-with-dreams Doatsey Mae (she is also Ann-Margret’s understudy). She understudied and played this role toward the end of the musical’s original Broadway run and toured in its first national company starring Alexis Smith.
Avery Sommers, as Miss Mona’s sidekick Jewel, is a real red-hot mama in her big number “Twenty-Four Hours of Lovin’.” Most of the character roles, including the Governor of Texas (Ed Dixon); the local newspaper editor (Hal Davis), who gives the musical its sly reference to “Our Town”; and the sleazy TV watchdog of local morals, Melvin P. Thorpe (Rob Donohoe), are briskly, if broadly, performed. But the musical itself and its satire of Texans and Texas mores is broad and not a little foul-mouthed. (It’s amusing to recall that the tuner was originally workshopped at the Actors Studio!)
As for Miss Mona’s girls and the Aggie football team that pleasures itself with them, they are in fine shape, physically, musically and terpsichoreally. The girls are all healthy types who wear their garter belts with elan and offer a particularly strong full-chorus “Hard Candy Christmas,” while the Aggies have clearly been chosen for their well-muscled physiques and, in an equal opportunity gesture, are revealed in jockstraps. Both the girls and the Aggies revel unapologetically in the choreography’s simulated sex-act moves.
And the latter also deliver the brunt of the lustily danced curtain calls, complete with rope twirling, and hurl themselves into their famous song-and-dance number choreographed by Tommy Tune and Thommie Walsh. The latter’s helming of this revival has brought it to brisk life, and serves to remind us that the musical paved the way for Broadway’s current “The Full Monty.”
The new production is firmly based on the original, and features an adaptation of Marjorie Bradley Kellogg’s original setting with its twin staircases, upper balcony and sliding platform center stage. The excellent seven-piece band is led by Keith Levenson and makes good use of its country fiddler, Chris Tedesco. Dona Granata’s costumes are amusingly Texas-tacky in an early-’70s way. Ken Billington and Jason Kantrowitz’s lighting burnishes the raunchy proceedings brightly.