Valentine's Day marks the one-year anniversary of the new national tour of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, starring Ann-Margret as faded madam, Miss Mona.
The company will celebrate the milestone at San Francisco's Golden Gate Theatre. Gary Sandy co stars as Sheriff Ed Earl Dodge in the slightly revised staging of the 1978 smash. Composer-lyricist Carol Hall added a new song, "A Friend to Me," for Ann Margret.
Whorehouse, written by Larry L. King and Peter Masterson, is produced by Manny Kladitis, Mitch Leigh, Lee Marshall and Clear Channel Entertainment in association with Jon B. Platt.
The tour has played 32 cities from its first engagement at the Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford, CT (Feb. 13, 2001, was a preview there, Feb. 14 was opening night) to a month in Texas (where Marvin Zindler, the crusading reporter who inspired the real-life drama of the Chicken Ranch brothel in 1973, pronounced this the best Whorehouse yet). The San Francisco booking continues to March 10.
April 2 will mark the beginning of Ann-Margret's first Vegas appearance in nearly a decade when she and her Whorehouse friends bring the show to the Aladdin Casino. The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas will play engagements in Portland, Edmonton, Seattle, Minneapolis, Boston, Birmingham and Baltimore through May 2002. Visit bestlittlemusical.com.
In this revised revival of the 1978 Broadway hit, Ann-Margret not only gets a new Carol Hall song ("A Friend to Me") at the end of Act Two, she wears Bob Mackie costumes (while the rest of the company retains a 1970s Texas look).
Whorehouse rehearsals with Ann-Margret and co-star Gary Sandy began Jan. 8, 2001, in Manhattan. Thommie Walsh, the show's associate choreographer in 1978, directs and choreographs the tour. Hall told Playbill On-Line the book by King and Masterson was trimmed and the show now has more dancing — and the curtain-call hoedown is bigger than it was 22 years ago. She said the musical is still set in the 1970s and still maintains the rueful, satiric tone of its original production (co-directed and choreographed by Tommy Tune).
It's 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 plays the no-nonsense madam of the legendary Texas bordello known as The Chicken Ranch.
Peter Masterson and Tommy Tune co-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 "The Bus From Amarillo," "Doatsy Mae," "Girl, You're a Woman" and "Hard Candy Christmas." All the songs remain, Hall told Playbill On-Line. The Whorehouse cast numbers 32, with Sandy (perhaps best known for TV's "WKRP in Cincinnati") playing the love interest of Miss Mona. Sandy's Broadway credits include Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Pirates of Penzance and Arsenic and Old Lace.
Marjorie Kellog's acclaimed, two-tiered original set design is part of the production. Lighting is by Ken Billington and Jason Kantrowitz. Costumes are by Bob Mackie (famed for "The Carol Burnett Show") and Donna Granata. Keith Levenson is musical director.
The musical comedy's rueful tone ("Girl, You're a Woman," "Good Old Girl," "Bus From Amarillo") is enlivened by zesty comic satire ("Watchdog"/"Texas Has a Whorehouse in It," "The Sidestep") and slices of both 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, l plays Act One on tour, leaving room for the new song at the end of the show.
The musical is based on a magazine article King wrote for Playboy. The show began Off-Broadway and moved the Broadway soon after, earning seven Tony Award nominations (it won two). 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.
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, in the late 1970s, 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, even in the last year.) 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.
— By Kenneth Jones