Don't try to get that catchy "Texas has a whorehouse in it" song out of your head after leaving this raucous country/western musical. It's impossible to forget, much like Circle Theatre's entire production. It's delectable, full of rowdy, yet innocent homespun humor, memorable songs, bodacious characters and standout performances offering a grand evening of good, adult fun.
The musical is based upon a Playboy article about the Chicken Ranch, a real-life Texas brothel dating back to the 1800s that got its name because, during the Great Depression, it accepted poultry in exchange for sexual pleasures. During the late 1970s the "ladies," under the watchful eye of outspoken madam, Miss Mona, treat their "guests" to theme-oriented evenings full of wholesome entertainment and intimate companionship. All goes well until do-gooder television evangelist Melvin P. Thorpe decides to expose the moral degradation allowed to exist under Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd's blind eye. The scandal affects everyone, from the Texas Aggies football team to the Governor of the Lone Star State.
Director/choreographer Kevin Bellie has infused this 30-year-old Tony-nominated musical with high-voltage energy and knee-slapping, foot-stomping country charm. Josh Walker's five-member combo, sitting in full view of the audience, lends an authentically twangy Texas sound, while costumer Jesus Perez has bedazzled his 25-member company with the most wigs, sequins, bustiers and BVDs found anywhere outside of Frederick's of Hollywood and International Male.
Bellie's cast is mostly excellent, led by powerhouse Anita Hoffman's delicious portrayal of Miss Mona and Noah Sullivan's natural, blustery Sheriff Ed Earl. Both actors resist temptation toward caricature, delivering instead flesh and blood people and mellow, heartfelt musical moments, especially "You're a Woman," "A Friend to Me" and the touching "Good Ol' Girl." Kirk Swenk, minus a recognizable pompadour, almost seems to channel Rod Blagojevich in his portrayal of the grinning, sidestepping Texan governor; Michael A. Gravame captures Watch Dog Melvin P. Thorpe down to a growl; and Jennifer Bludgen creates a spirited, but wistful waitress, Doatsey Mae. Accolades must be heaped upon the ensemble's song-and-dance abilities, especially when playing Miss Mona's Ladies and the Texas Aggies. As one of the songs goes, it may be a "Little Bitty Pissant Country Place," but this is a lusty, funny musical comedy bursting with heart.