Theater Review: “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” at Signature Theatre

Signature’s latest is a racy romp of a musical with brilliant performances and sizzling choreography.

By: Leslie Milk

Rarely has a revival of a show felt more timely than Signature Theatre’s current production. Whorehouse was a Broadway hit in the ’70s, but this tale based on the true story of a “crusading” TV personality who launched a campaign to close a Texas brothel could be, as they say on TV, “ripped from the headlines.”

Playwright Larry L. King was a native Texan, and he captures the syrupy slowness of small-town life and the impact the new medium of television news can have on the town’s unsuspecting occupants. Suddenly, a community comfortable with their good neighborly business, one that has provided friendly service to politicians as well as other upstanding citizens for decades, is forced to take action against the place.

King’s story has a slew of delightful if stereotypical characters—prostitutes with hearts of gold, a bumbling sheriff, a smarmy senator, a shifty governor, and an ambitious TV host who loves his own spotlight. But what makes this musical is the music. Whorehouse has a rousing score and a star who brings the house down.

Sherri L. Edelen is Miss Mona, the proprietor of the house of ill repute, and she is nothing short of dazzling. She can sing it slow, sing it sassy, sing with enthusiasm enough to make even the most inhibited in the audience want to enlist in her unclad army.

Edelen does not excel alone. There are star turns galore in this production, including Thomas Adrian Simpson as Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd and Nova Y. Payton heating up the joint as Jewel.

Choreographer Karma Camp channels her inner Bob Fosse with sizzling, sexy numbers and an ensemble of athletic, incredibly attractive dancers. Given the nature of the enterprise, we get to see quite a lot of them—women in their skivvies and men in their altogether with strategic props (thank heaven for cowboy hats). Make no mistake: We may be in the same neighborhood geographically, but this is no Oklahoma!.

Signature artistic director Eric Schaeffer has an international reputation as a master of musicals, and it shows with this production. Every detail—right down to the period ceiling fans spinning over the audience—has been lovingly created to give honor to that fine institution, the Chicken Ranch. The real Miss Mona would be proud.

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is at Signature Theatre through October 7. Tickets ($72 to $77) are available through Ticketmaster.