It’s easy to dismiss composer Carol Hall and librettists Larry L. King and Peter Masterson’s hit 1978 musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas as nothing but a cutesy tale of prostitution. But often overshadowed by the sight of alluring women and the sound of mattresses getting an extreme workout is a highly relevant show about empowerment, family, security, sisterhood, and second chances.
In the Dayton Playhouse’s very entertaining production fluidly directed by Brian Sharp, a big-haired, wonderfully grounded Tina McPhearson resoundingly leads the way as the resilient, no-nonsense Miss Mona Stangley, proprietor of the Chicken Ranch in Gilbert, Texas in the late 1970s. With faithful support from her trusty sidekick Jewel (delightfully sassy Pamela Byrd) and good-natured Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd (folksy Ted Eltzroth), Miss Mona and her playpen have been able to avoid catastrophic controversy. However, everything unexpectedly crumbles when fiery TV reporter Melvin P. Thorpe (energetic Ron Maurer, far removed from his reserved Tateh in the Playhouse’s Ragtime two years ago) whips the public into a religiously frenzied uproar. Despite Miss Mona’s tuneful opinion that “there’s nothing dirty goin’ on,” Thorpe vows to expose the ranch’s illegal activity, ultimately receiving help from the hopelessly flighty Governor (playful Matt Owens making the most of the silly Sidestep, a highlight of Sandra Hyde’s choreography).
Still, as chaos overwhelms, the heart of the show remains Miss Mona’s gals, an assortment of colorful women from different backgrounds, different homes and different opportunities just trying to get by while feeling protected by their surrogate mother. Kelli Myers (Shy), Adee McFarland (Angel), Shana Fishbein (Eloise), Amber Pfeifer (Taddy Jo), Alicia Walton (Dawn), Shanna Camacho (Durla), Logan Hylinski (Beatrice), Stacey Ward (Ruby Rae), and Sommer McGuire (Linda Lou) are pleasantly unified. Myers, believably evolving from naivete to confidence, and McFarland, beautifully leading the poignant Hard Candy Christmas, are noteworthy in addition to McPhearson’s quietly descriptive account of Miss Mona’s Galveston winter rendezvous late in Act 2.
Elsewhere, Jackie Pfeifer (waitress Doatsey Mae) provides a tenderly reflective Doatsey Mae, Mark Diffenderfer (recently memorable in Dayton Theatre Guild’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) brings understated authenticity to the Narrator, Sean Gunther (Senator Wingwoah), John Jeurgens (Mayor Rufus Poindexter), Malcolm Casey (CJ Scruggs), Marabeth Klejna (Announcer), and Cheryl MacGowan (Miss Wulla Jean) add greatly to the material’s humor, and there’s plenty of rowdy fun bursting within the sexually rambunctious Aggies consisting of John Carrington, Samuel Hamilton, Adonis Lemke, Sean Mayo, Ryan Petrie, Bryan Schuck, and Josh Vance. Hamilton, Schuck, Vance, and strong tenor Lemke are also notable as the Dogettes Quartet.
Sharp’s first-rate artistic team includes scenic designer Red Newman, costumer Teresa Kahle, wig designer Steve Burton, lighting designer Richard Lee Waldeck, sound designer Bob Kovach, and music director Ron Kindell. Violinist John Root is particularly excellent among Kindell’s orchestra during Doatsey Mae.
Surprisingly, considering the subject matter, the Playhouse offers a relatively genteel, sexually tame Whorehouse. By no means does this production ever ascend to questionable levels of gritty, carnal ecstasy in tone or characterizations, clearing allowing for a genuinely fun, worthwhile outing.
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas continues through Sept. 29 at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Dayton Playhouse, 1301 E. Siebenthaler Ave., Dayton. Act One: 80 minutes; Act Two: 40 minutes. Tickets are $20 for adults and $18 for seniors, students and military. For tickets or more information, call (937) 424-8477 or visit daytonplayhouse.com. Patrons are advised the show contains adult content, language and situations.