The new national-touring revival of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, starring Ann-Margret as country fried madam Miss Mona, opens its doors Feb. 13 at the Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford, CT.
In this revised revival of the 1978 Broadway hit, Ann-Margret gets a new Carol Hall song ("A Friend to Me") at the end of Act Two and will wear 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 in Manhattan. Thommie Walsh, the show's associate choreographer in 1978, directs and choreographs the tour. Composer-lyricist Hall told Playbill On-Line the book by Larry L. King and Peter 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).
In Connecticut, Ann-Margret will appear with a cast on her hand; she took a spill in December 2000 but the cast will be removed shortly.
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'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. The national tour travels to 30 cities through spring 2002.
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 Playill On-Line. "A Friend to Me" was added as the show's final number to give Ann-Margret the gift of a new song to debut.
The Whorehouse cast numbers 32, with Sandy (perhaps best known for TV's "WKRP in Cincinnati") playing Sheriff Ed Earl Dodge, the love interest of Miss Mona. Sandy's Broadway credits include Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Pirates of Penzance and Arsenic and Old Lace.
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.
Marjorie Kellog's acclaimed, two-tiered original set design is part of the production. Lighting is by Ken Billington and Jason Kantrowitz. Costumes designer 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'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, will play 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.
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, 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.) 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 spring 2002. For tour information, check out the website at www.bestlittlemusical.com.
— By Kenneth Jones