'Best Little Whorehouse in Texas' set to open at Peoria Players

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Peoria has a strip bar or two or three and at one time had its share of brothels. So are Peoria community theatre audiences ready to see a whorehouse kickin’ up some dirt?

Chip Joyce is counting on it. He’s directing “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” the popular musical that opens Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Peoria Players Theatre, 4300 N. University St.

“This is a popular title, and yet it’s a show that doesn’t get produced all that often. Ticket sales are going well and we’re in good shape,” Joyce said before one of the show’s final rehearsals.

“People like this show because it’s good, clean adult fun. It is not a raunchy show by any means. It’s a very sweet show that can be rowdy and fun. It’s not threatening or offensive in any way and it doesn’t try to make any big statements, yet it does say a lot about politics and media hypocrisy,” he added.

And the politics and media hypocrisy are based on fact.

“The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” is based on the real-life Chicken Ranch brothel in LaGrange, Texas. The book was written by Larry L. King and Peter Masterson, with music and lyrics by Carol Hall. It is based on a book written by King.

The story takes place in the late 1970s in fictional Gilbert, Texas, where a brothel has operated for 100 years or more. It’s being run by Miss Mona Stangley, who is on good terms with the law, notably Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd.

However, all good things come to an end. In this case, the brothel gets shut down when a crusading television reporter named Melvin P. Thorpe (based on real-life newsman Marvin Zindler) makes an issue of it to state and local politicians.

Songs in the show include “Girl You’re a Woman,” “Texas Has a Whorehouse In It,”  “Sneakin’ Around,”  “The Sidestep,” “Good Old Girl” and “Hard Candy Christmas.”

Joyce has assembled a cast of 32 that includes veterans of area community theatre as well as some newcomers to Peoria stages.

Wendi Fleming of Normal is making her Peoria Players debut in the role of Miss Mona Stangley.

John Donlan of Peoria portrays Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd, his first lead role.

Other cast members include Peoria Players newcomer Kevin Wickert as Melvin P. Thorpe, Wendy Blickenstaff as Doatsey May, John Johnson as the governor, and Jamika Russell as Jewel, one of the “girls” of the brothel.

The other girls are Jillian Risinger, Susan Hazzard, Laura Bouxsein, Kelsey Jensen, Jordan Boland, Kelleen Nitsch, Jessica King, Jennifer Morris, Hania Solecka and Jan Crim.

The Aggies football players are portrayed by John Bathke, Matt Edwards, Aaron Elwell, Chris Guidi, Joshua Jones, Rob King, Andy Schoepke and Matt Stubbs.

“I got very lucky with this cast. Again, the popularity of the title brought people out I didn’t expect. Half of this cast I’ve never worked with before,” Joyce said.

The music director is Laura Weaver Hughes and Danny Fisher is the choreographer for the production.

Joyce designed the large and elaborate set, with Marc Wycoff and Bill Barr the chief builders. “I wanted kind of an abstract southern mansion look. It had to be abstract in that so much action in the show takes place on the set, both inside and outside the house.

Show dates are Feb. 5, 6, 11, 12 and 13 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 7 and 14 at 2 p.m.

Tickets are 19 for adults and 12 for patrons 20 and younger. They can be ordered online at www.peoriaplayers.org or by calling (309) 688-4473.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).