Theatre

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is based on the true story of a legendary Texas Brothel known as the Chicken Ranch, which operated from the 1840s to 1973. Protected by a friendly Sheriff and frequented by politicians, football teams and others, the Chicken Ranch thrived in the small town of Gilbert, Texas. Girls come from all over to work at the ranch and make a little extra cash. However, a crusading do-gooder Houston radio commentator and his conservative audience expose the Chicken Ranch forcing it to shut its doors forever. It was at the 1982 showing of this play that Dottie West made her acting debut.

With her popularity at its height, the bright lights of Broadway soon beckoned for Dottie West. Tommy Tune, one of Broadway’s hottest director choreographers, was the first to seek out Dottie for her acting ability.

Tommy Tune had called and asked if Dottie would be interested in playing a role in one of his Broadway productions. Disappointedly, Dottie had declined, saying that the seven months needed for rehearsals and performing of the play in New York City interfered with previous contracts. “I just couldn’t afford to do that,” she told a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, “plus I didn’t want to be in New York City seven months. That’s too long for this country girl. New York’s a nice place to visit, and to work in once in a while, but not that long!”

In 1982, the opportunity came her way again, when a Kenley Players’ version of the musical asked her to appear in the play for a four-week run— one week in Akron, Ohio, from June 29-July 4, another week in Dayton, Ohio, from July 6-11, and a week in Flint, Michigan. Dottie happily agreed. Unfortunately, the opportunity arose during one of the hardest times for her. At the time, Dottie had been on the road touring for an extended period, and once she had come off from it, she was tired and needed rest. When the play came up, Dottie excitedly agreed to do it, not realizing that it was right in the middle of a schedule that was booked solid. There was not much time for her to learn the script.

Dottie had been given the role of Mona Stangley; a lead role. A week before she began the play, panic began to set in for Dottie. Ken Kargen spoke of the difficult circumstances surrounding this. “Dottie was unhappy about this a week before and we were feeling really bad about putting her in this show,” he said. He and Michael Brokaw who had previously made plans to fly to Cincinnati for the opening performance had to cancel their trip when a hysterical Dottie called and forbade them from attending, saying “it was going to be a disaster!”

They were surprised to say the least, when they flew to Cincinnati a few days later and visited Dottie backstage who told them, “I love this, this is the most fun I’ve ever had, you gotta book me for as long as you can on this show.” Dottie proved to be terrific in the role, “absolutely born for it,” Kragen learned when he watched her performance. “She just had doubts before the opening as to whether she could pull it off. Once the audience and media reacted so positively to her, all was well.”Dottie later spoke of her experiences doing the show. “Because of my schedule and itinerary, I had (only) five days to learn the music and part. Dramatic work takes a lot more energy than concerts. I had nine changes and three girls to change me—because one of the changes had to be done in a minute and a half! That included hair and no wig. But we made it every time. And I loved it!”

Considering all this however, she remained always a “lady” throughout. She demanded that some of the dialogue be changed because it was just too racy, and she wished not to swear. She refused to sacrifice her lady-like demeanor for any success doing theatre.

The stage production was a smash hit with the audiences. It broke box office records and received raving reviews. “We went expecting the worst and got a pleasant surprise,” confessed reviewer Janet Martineau of The Saginaw News. “Miss West’s whorehouse madam is sensual yet soft and about as naturally relaxed in a role as anyone could be.” She further wrote, “clad in her own costumes by Bob Mackie, Miss West lit up the stage by her mere presence. Added to that, she sang ballads as they are meant to be sung.” She also commented: “we think we shall never hear ‘Girl You’re a Woman’ sung more beautifully and with more emotion than Miss West did it.” Not all reviews were positive regarding Dottie’s performance however. The “Akron Beacon Journal” theater critic Bill O’Connor wrote: “It was only after the show was over that Ms. West showed any life. While the cast was taking bows, she went offstage and came back in a tight, low-cut cowboy outfit and sang ‘You Needed Me.’ She was then in her element.”

Another theater critic Hal Lipper wrote: “Country singer West, in the role of madam Miss Mona, can sing honky-tonk songs with the best of them, but when it comes to reciting her lines, there isn’t a delivery as slow or unspiring this side of the Mason Dixion line.” Also in the review he wrote: “You won’t see West waltzing around the stage in four-inch heels. Her costumes were wonderfully extravagant although they serve as a sharp contrast for the laid-back character she plays.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper writer Michael Ward wrote in his review: “For the part of Mona, the woman who runs the popular establishment, West strays a little from her familiar country-western singing role, really not too far and yet too far for comfort.”

Overall the “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” was a play that received unexpected, but nevertheless excellent reception from country audience and the general public alike. Dottie’s debut role in the play was a major part in the production’s success.

CAST AND CREDITS

Star Theatre of Flint
(A Non-Profit Michigan Corporation)
Frank Kenley, producer
presents


DOTTIE WEST
in
“THE BEST LITTLE WAREHOUSE
IN TEXAS”


Book by Larry L. King & Peter Masterson
Music & Lyrics by Carol Hall
Musical Numbers originally staged by Tommy Tune


Co-starring
TED PRITCHARD | DEAN DITTMANN
SANDRA REAVES-PHILLIPS

with
BOB MOAK | MARY MUNGER | JILL HAYMAN
CHARLES CAGLE | DEBORAH CARLSON | CHRIS RAFFERTY
PAUL HARDY


DIRECTED BY JERRY YODER
CHOREOGRAPHY: LEO MULLER
MUSICAL DIRECTOR: MICHAEL SARTOR
SETTING BY LEONARD HARMAN
PRODUCTION COORDINATOR: JOSEPH A. VISPI
STAGE MANAGER: JOHN BRIGLEB
COSTUMES: CARL HEASTAND
LIGHTING: PATRICIA DONOVAN
PUBLICIST: ROZ KRAMER