The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas Review: East Midlands Theatre

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas was first presented on Broadway in 1978, based on a book by Larry L King. It tells the true story of a legendary Texan bordello, which operated from the 1840s until it was closed in 1973. Known locally as ‘the chicken ranch’ the business survived because the local law enforcement turned a blind eye. That’s quite an extraordinary tale to tell but times have changed since the 1970s, and the theatrical story feels like maybe it’s had a blind eye turned on it too.

Miss Mona runs the brothel like a tight ship, with rules in place to protect her girls and her guests alike. Mona gets much of the limelight of the show and Julie Easter makes the most of this tricky part. Her stage presence commands attention even when surrounded by the ensemble. Her singing is controlled and strong and Julie Easter has great diction. Easter expresses the range of emotions through the show with subtlety. Her characterisation is very natural and convincing and a real highlight.

Supporting her in the local Texan community is the Sheriff Ed Earl. He overlooks the illegal activities at the ranch and offers something in the way of protection to Miss Mona and the girls. Jeremy Malpas plays the Sheriff with bags of believability. He is also very natural in his delivery, particularly in his scenes with Easter. The ‘almost’ relationship between them feels real. The conflict he endures between his duty and his friendship is palpable. Between them this pair give the show some much needed humanity.

This cosy arrangement is brought to an abrupt halt by the attentions of the local TV personality Melvin P Thorpe who wants to make a name for himself by exposing the brothel. This larger than life character is created by David Perkins who has apparently played the part twice before with CTC. All that practice has resulted in the creation of the perfectly nauseating and egotistical personality of Melvin P Thorpe and one this audience clearly relishes. His strutting and posturing, plus the offensive costumes, allows the audience to despise somebody who proposes that he is just upholding the law.

There are some very strong ensemble numbers, notably ‘Good Old Girl’ led by Malpas who possesses a natural and easy listening voice. The men’s harmonies in this are wonderful. It is so good to have so many really talented men to make the most of this in an amateur production. ‘Hard Candy Christmas’ is a song which allows the many talents of the women to shine. Each one of them that sings a solo line shows, in just a few words, their potential as leading ladies. This depth of talent in CTC is what makes them stand out. Again, there are lovely harmonies in this song and it has great warmth.

There are some strongly choreographed numbers, with lots of energy and sass. These require a great deal of self-confidence from both men and women, who are often sparsely dressed during their performances. However, there are some scenes and songs that feel rather static and not helped by quite hefty bits of libretto. A lot of the scenes that are being set towards the back of the stage tend to lose focus.

Whorehouse as a show, feels a poor fit in today’s world. The gritty reality of sexual exploitation is glossed over in favour of a strange sort of cutesy ‘romanticism’ which demeans women and presents men as mere opportunists. Some will enjoy the light-hearted comedy, directed by Michael Gamble, without further thought, but others, like this female reviewer, may feel very uncomfortable throughout. Without negating the overall effort, CTC do a sterling job at making the most of this rather awkward 1970s based show.