by David Pierce
Iowa City – A new whorehouse opened in town Friday night, and everyone should come on out and have some fun. You won’t get arrested if you come to the Iowa City Community Theatre’s (ICCT’s) production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, but you will have a good time.
Every production of Best Little Whorehouse is dependent on having a good actress in the lead role of Miss Mona. Marcia Hughes, making her ICCT debut, is a good actress and more. She has such a commanding stage presence that it’s hard to keep your eyes off her even as other action takes place around her. She has a clear, powerful voice that nonetheless can handle the gentleness of a song like “Girl, You’re A Woman” and “No Lies.” There are some downright silly sequences in the show, and Hughes’ strength grounds the production, allowing the actors in those silly scenes to take them a bit broader than they would be able to do otherwise. It’s a great performance, and if there was nothing else good going on, it’d still be worth seeing the show for Hughes alone.
Fortunately, there are a lot of other good things going on. Don Schneider makes a triumphant return to the ICCT stage as Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd. Schneider has not lost a bit of his comedic timing or his strong vocal abilities. Mary Haaf Wedermeyer as Miss Mona’s right hand woman Jewel and Valerie Davine Bills as coffee shop owner Doatsey Mae both have entertaining solos. Wedermeyer’s solo is a sultry number as she’s about to head out for a day with her husband, and Bills has one as a small-town woman who always dreamed of something better. Taylor Anderson as Melvin P. Thorpe and Cary Beatty as the Governor have two of the most fun numbers in the show, Anderson singing out his crusade against the chicken ranch and Beatty singing out his talent for side stepping the hard questions.
The rest of the supporting cast, especially the actresses portraying Miss Mona’s girls, do a great job. Heather Johnson gives another strong performance as Shy, a new working girl in over her head who quickly finds her footing. Lacy Papazis as Angel effectively puts forth a strong exterior while letting the insecure interior sneak through. And my favorite song of the night wasn’t from one of the leads; it was “Hard Candy Christmas,” sung by Miss Mona’s girls as they prepare to leave the place they’ve called home. Each of the actresses has a solo within the song, but it’s Papazis who really shines, displaying a great singing voice that future directors would be wise to put to good use. It was the best moment of the night for me in a night already filled with good moments.
And it’s not just the performers that shine. The show is set three-quarters thrust, and the action takes up the entire space. Director Susan Hamel has perfectly staged the non-dancing scenes, and choreographer Peyton Proud does a wonderful job with the dancing routines. The set is simple but effective, going for a more stylized, less realistic look that works well for the show. There’s even a Texas flag painted as the floor of the set. The show is well-lit, the orchestra is talented, and the scene changes, with one exception, move at a nice brisk pace.
It’s not a technically flawless production, but the little things I noticed (such as one scene change that dragged) are the sort of opening night glitches that work themselves out pretty quickly. It’s a longer show, but it never feels long, and as I went to the front of the house at intermission I was surprised at how much time had passed. It was an hour and a half first act, but it never felt like that, and the second act is considerably shorter than the first.
ICCT’s production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is well worth seeing, but you better act quickly. Opening night was nearly a sell-out and the other two performances opening weekend sold out completely. Call or reserve your tickets online before it’s too late.