A terrific ensemble of Southern California triple threats and John Vaughan’s pizzazzy choreography are the best reasons to catch Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre’s revival of 1978’s The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas, a Broadway smash that begs the question, how did this mostly forgettable musical end up running a whopping 1,584 performances on Broadway?

_MG_8343 Larry L. King and Peter Masterson’s book features only the slightest of plots. Will television crusader Melvin P. Thorpe manage to rile up enough Texans to get sheriff Ed Earl Dodd to shut down the titular brothel better known as Miss Mona Stangley’s “Chicken Ranch,” or will The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas manage once again to keep its doors open as it has over the past who-knows-how-many years? That Ed Earl and Miss Mona have a longstanding “arrangement” (along with considerable middle-aged male-female chemistry) makes Thorpe’s campaign an uphill battle, but one he is bound and determined to win.

_MG_7389 Along the way, Miss Mona welcomes a couple of new fillies to her stable, a teamful of horny football-playing Texas A & M “Aggies” celebrate their win over the University Of Texas with a visit to the Chicken Ranch, and Sheriff Ed Earl uses a few too many “goddamns” when caught on TV railing against Thorpe, thereby earning him the ire of the town’s morality police. (The language in Best Little Whorehouse is salty indeed, but sexual content is tame by contemporary standards.)

Not many of Carol Hall’s songs have stood the test of time, though the bittersweet ballad “Hard Candy Christmas” does prove a nostalgic treat for those who recall Dolly Parton’s 1982 Top Ten Country single, a holiday favorite throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Mona&Shy Leading lady Lisa Layne makes for a folksy, laid-back Miss Mona, her bio proudly proclaiming that “there is no finer voice in country music.” (Take that Shania, Dolly, Carrie, Faith, Reba, and all you other wannabes.) Steven Biggs does solid work as Sheriff Ed Earl, David Aldrete gives a winning supporting turn as the Governor of Texas, and Rashonda Johnson shows off the evening’s biggest, best pipes as Chicken Ranch bookkeeper Jewel.

_MG_7240 Still, if there’s a best-of-show medal to be given, it’s to Jeremy Magouirk’s hilariously flamboyant platinum blond pageboy-coiffed Melvin P. Thorpe, who you just know has got his own sex scandal a-brewin’ should TMZ decide to investigate his closet.

The character of Doatsey Mae, the song “Doatsey Mae,” and Mona’s big Act One closer “Bus From Amarillo” have unceremoniously ended up on the cutting room floor.

All of this leaves it up to the Chicks and the Aggies to provide the lion’s share of the evening’s entertainment in one high-energy dance number after another.

_MG_6706 Proving once again the caliber of triple-threats Southern California has to offer are an octet of gorgeous Chicken Rancherettes: Caitlin Ary as Ruby Rae, Rachel Burkert as Taddy Jo, Angela Calderon as Linda Lou, Marie Gutierrez as Shy, Adrianne Hampton as Angel, Catie Marron as Beatrice, Susanna Vaughan as Eloise, and Katherine Washington as Dawn.  (Guttierez and Hampton show off delightful comedic chops as a pair of Chicken Ranch newbies.)

_MG_7469 A sextet of equally gorgeous and talented chorus boys portray Aggies and assorted male cameos: Eric Stanton Betts, Bert Fulton (C.J. Scruggs), Dylan Pass, Eric W. Taylor (Rufus), Josh Taylor, and Matt Wiley. (The guys’ high-kicking “Aggie Song” makes for one exciting, testosterone-fueled Act One finale.)

Another plus (and a treat for Candlelight regulars accustomed to prerecorded instrumental tracks) is the production’s live four-piece onstage band.

Douglas Austin once again provides topnotch musical direction. Steve Giltner of SteveGDesign does his accustomed first-rate work lighting Miss Mona’s Chicken Ranch (and various other locales), with the evening’s best designer prize going to Merrill Grady’s abundance of colorful hooker, cowboy/cowgirl, and other assorted Texas duds.

_MG_7039 Logan Grosjean is stage manager and Orlando Montes technical director. At the performance reviewed, Michael Ryan’s expertise on the acoustic guitar once again provided a melodic musical backdrop to executive chef Juan Alvarado and sous chef Maria Sandoval’s scrumptious cuisine at the performance reviewed. Kudos as always to Candlelight Pavilion owner/producer Ben D. Bollinger, general manager/vice president Michael Bollinger, acting producer Mindy Teuber, production manager Neil Dale, and especially to artistic director John LaLonde.

Coming up next at Candlelight is perhaps the greatest Broadway musical of all time, My Fair Lady. In the meantime, there’s The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas, and for those willing to overlook its more forgettable elements, there’s still enough entertainment value in its song-and-dance numbers to make it worth an afternoon or evening of dining and musical theater by Candlelight.

Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont.

–Steven Stanley
January 11, 2014

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