FORT WORTH -- The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is one of those musicals that are hard not to love, even when the production is hovering just above average. The adjectives fun and cute -- both of which were heard while I exited the Saturday matinee at Casa Mañana -- go a long way toward trumping expectations. It beats the heck out of a mediocre production of a bona fide great musical, that's for sure.
With a book by Larry L. King and Peter Masterson and music and lyrics by Carol Hall, Whorehouse is based on the Chicken Ranch, a Hill Country brothel that was famously shut down. While offering up a lively story about the Madam, her gals and the community, it lightly skewers Moral Majority-types who won't stop once they've set out on a mission. There's a topic that writers have been satirizing for centuries. Millennia, even.
But the musical isn't so much concerned with political diatribes as with tuneful songs and memorable characters. And Miss Mona is one of the most endearing. Ruta Lee, the Hollywood actress who packed many a house throughout Casa's history, returns to the part. Her Mona isn't as brassy as some of the other famous portrayals, and Lee might be older than the actresses normally cast as Mona. But she still has a youthful energy and star quality that serve this musical well.
Another Casa veteran, Ed Dixon, plays Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd and knocks it out of the park when he sings Good Old Girl with that big, resonant voice. It's the show's finest moment. Dallas favorite Liz Mikel is Jewel, a domestic at the Chicken Ranch, and has two showstopping numbers, one a duet with Lee.
Joe Sturgeon's Melvin P. Thorpe is oddly lifeless, for that role anyway. He's vastly outdone by David Coffee as the Texas governor.
While director Michael Susko's production isn't the best anything, it's still pretty good.
And that's just fine.