Oh, Miss Mona!
The new national-tour revival of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas — starring Ann-Margret as country-fried madam Miss Mona — pulled $100,000 in 36 hours of box office activity at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis, the first city to launch the ad campaign for the show.
Rehearsals with Ann-Margret and co-star Gary Sandy began Jan. 8 in Manhattan. The 30-city tour kicks off Feb. 13 in Wallingford, CT, at the Oakdale Theatre. In addition to wearing Bob Mackie costumes in her musical theatre debut, Ann-Margret will perform a new ballad, written by songwriter Carol Hall, which will close the show.
Hard to believe after seeing her sing and dance in the film of "Bye Bye Birdie," but this is indeed the legit theatrical debut for Ann-Margret. The legendary actress and singer has appeared in film ("Carnal Knowledge," "Grumpy Old Men"), acted on TV ("Who Will Love My Children?"), sung on records ("Beauty and the Beard") and performed in nightclubs (Las Vegas).
Now, she'll play the no-nonsense madam of the legendary Texas bordello known as The Chicken Ranch, a real place that apparently thrived up into the 1970s, when the show is set. Peter Masterson and Tommy Tune directed the original 1978 Broadway production, which ran 1,578 performances and is remembered for its satiric edge, bare-chested male dancers in football gear and a handful of surprisingly humane, bittersweet country numbers such as "Bus From Amarillo," "Doatsy Mae," "Girl, You're a Woman" and "Hard Candy Christmas."
The Whorehouse cast numbers 32, with Sandy (perhaps best known for TV's "WKRP in Cincinnati") playing Sheriff Ed Earl Dodge, an unrequited love interest of Miss Mona's. Sandy was hand-picked by Ann-Margret to play opposite her. His Broadway credits include Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Pirates of Penzance and Arsenic and Old Lace.
Thommie Walsh directs and choreographs the new staging, with Marjorie Kellog's acclaimed original set design and lighting by Ken Billington and Jason Kantrowitz.Bob Mackie (famed for "The Carol Burnett Show") designs new costumes for Ann-Margret, and designer Donna Granata handles the early-70's designs for all the other costumes. Keith Levenson is musical director.
The musical comedy is expected to retain its unique rueful tone ("Girl, You're a Woman," "Good Old Girl," Bus From Amarillo"), which is enlivened by zesty comic satire ("Watchdog"/"Texas Has a Whorehouse in It," "The Sidestep") and slices of beefcake ("The Aggie Song") and cheesecake ("20 Fans," "A Lil Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place").
"Bus From Amarillo," which was shifted from Act One to Act Two during the original Broadway run, will play Act One on tour.
Director-choreographer Thommie Walsh was the original production's associate choreographer.
Rob Donohue plays zealous TV reporter Melvin P. Thorpe; Ed Dixon is the smooth-talking, sidestepping Texas Governor, Avery Sommers is Miss Mona's trusted confidante Jewel and Roxie Lucas is waitress Doatsy Mae. Matt Landers (Senator Wingwoah and Mayor Poindexter), Hal Davis (Edsel), Terri Dixon (Angel) and Jen Celene Little (Shy) are the other featured performers.
Manny Kladitis (Hello, Dolly!, National Actors Theatre) is the sole producer of the tour.
Tommy Tune choreographed (memorably, "The Side Step" and "The Aggie Song"). The book is by Larry L. King and Peter Masterson based on an article by King.
The show began Off-Broadway and moved the Broadway soon after, earning seven Tony Award nominations (it won two Tonys). The original cast included Carlin Glynn, Henderson Forsythe, Pamela Blair, Delores Hall and Jay Garner. Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds starred in the movie version, which added a few Parton songs into the mix.
A sequel to the show, The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public, was a quick flop in 1994.
Ann-Margret graduated from frivolous movies and proved herself a mature actress of depth in such pictures as "Who Will Love My Children?," a TV film in 1983.
Whorehouse, which in its original national touring company starred Alexis Smith, requires Miss Mona to be a human being rather than a trashy stereotype. Operating her business with high standards, she insists "there's nothin' dirty goin' on" at her place.
Memorably, three of New York's seven TV stations refused to run commercials with the show's title in them, making for a commercial that never once mentioned the product it was selling. (Presenters ran into similar advertising obstacles on the road.) Also in New York, according the revival's website, the New York City Transit Authority — bowing to pressure from the Catholic Archbishop — ordered the removal of bus ads proclaiming, "Have Fun at the Whorehouse!" The show has long been a target of religious groups.
Dates and tentative dates have been announced through April 2002. For tour information, check out the website at www.bestlittlemusical.com.
— By Kenneth Jones