Nancy Sasso Janis
- OnStage Connecticut Critic
“Not many people can say that they got engaged in a whorehouse.” - Matt Cornish
TORRINGTON CT - Set in the 70’s, ‘The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas’ by Carol Hall, Larry L. King and Peter Masterson sings and dances its way through the true story of a legendary brothel on the border of La Grange, Texas that was in business for nearly fifty years. During the depression, the girls traded services for farm goods and so many chickens were received that it earned the name of the “Chicken Ranch.” The Warner Stage Company production of this surprisingly charming musical under the direction of Donna Bonasera opened on Saturday on the main stage in Torrington.
In their first number, “A Lil’ Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place,” Miss Mona and the girls assure the audience that “there’s nothing dirty going on,” and despite the subject matter and foul language, we believe them. That is the power of the charm of the singing and dancing choreographed by the director, the mixture of comedy and drama and the sheer talent of the community theatre actors that bring the story to life. While I wouldn’t bring along a young child, I never once squirmed seated next to my teenaged son who thoroughly enjoyed the show.
Matt Cornish as the Bandleader began to narrate the story before Executive in Charge of Production Sharon A. Wilcox (wearing well a cowboy hat) even finished her curtain speech and when the curtain opened we were in the interior of the Chicken Ranch, the set designed by Assistant Director Katherine Ray. The scantily-clad girls at Miss Mona’s were played by Lana Peck, Kelsey Morris, Jean-Marie McGrath, Sophie Rundhaug, Jessie Sawyer, Sue Cunningham and Stephanie Chernoff. As soon as L. Nagle entered the stage as Miss Mona herself, she commanded attention and she was a powerhouse when she sang.
Jim Wood was a riot in his Trump wig as the nosy reporter Melvin P. Thorpe who is on a mission to close down the Chicken Ranch and Dianna Waller stood out as sassy waitress Doatsey Mae Rimes. Karen Robinson owned her role as the singing housemaid Jewel. Eric Lindblom returned to the Warner stage after an injury during ‘Hello, Dolly!’ to play the sheriff Ed Earl Dodd and it was so good to see him back on the stage and thankfully not dancing.
Caitlin Barra and Kate Luurstemma (in her community theatre debut) were wonderful as the two newest girls at the ranch and Michael Newman pulled off a variety of cheeky roles including the Scandinavian Place Kicker. Kudos to Shelby Davis, Joey Frighetto, Rob Hagedorn, Matt Monitto, Mr. Newman, Geoff Ruckdeschel, and Cole Sutton who played the high school football players that sang in beautiful harmony in “Good Old Girl” and danced up a storm in “The Aggie Song.” The choreography by their director was perfect. The subset of peppy performers that played Thorpe’s backup singers were good, even if their tambourines were a bit overwhelming.
The costumes by Phoebe Katzen were appropriate yet tasteful and Renee C. Purdy oversaw the fabulous wigs and hair. The orchestra in the pit under the direction of Willard C. Minton made the wide variety of pieces sound great. Overall, this was a big show with a heart that was lots of fun.
During the curtain call on opening night, Mr. Cornish asked the audience to be seated and invited community theatre actor Richard DeMaso (The King in Landmark’s ‘The King and I’) to bring local actress Jamie Weisberg (Ernestina Money in ‘Hello, Dolly!’) to the stage. Mr. DeMaso described how he had met his lady during the Warner Theatre’s production of ‘Titanic’ as Ms. Weisberg looked confused. Suddenly, he got down on one knee to propose marriage to the shocked lady. In spite of the pressure of being in front of a huge audience, she happily accepted. Mr. Cornish broke his seventies character to take out a cell phone to record this romantic event and the video ends with the quote at the top of this review. Congratulations to the happy couple.
Ya’ll come back now! Ya hear? Next up for the Warner Stage Company is ‘Over the River and Through the Woods’ in the Nancy Marine Studio Theatre June 11-19.
Photos by Luke Haughwout and Mandi Martini