Review: It’s a Theo Ubique Cabaret Hootenanny with The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

Theo Ubique's Evanston home is a great place to stage The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. The show is skillfully directed by Landree Fleming with music direction by Isabella Sherwood, and choreography by Jenna Schoppe. Traditionally, "sporting houses" have a piano player named Professor, and this little whorehouse has a whippersnapper band called All Hat and No Cattle. This musical is from a book by Texas author Larry King (not the suspenders guy) and Peter Masterson. The music and lyrics are by Carol Hall.

Anne Sheridan Smith plays the proprietress Miss Mona with a mien that is all business with a distant memory of love with Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd (Marc Prince). Her house manager, Miss Jewel, is played by Cynthia Carter (Black Ensemble Theater's production of Women of Soul). Sheridan Smith and Carter play well off of each other's characters. Miss Mona and Miss Jewel are best friends who have seen many years in the business. The inspiration for this musical happened in 1973 and is based on the real Chicken Ranch with services traded for poultry and livestock.

The character of Miss Mona is no caricature. She is a woman with a backbone and a good eye for BS. Sheridan Smith gives the role a full helping of sass and seasoned sexiness with a lovely voice as the topper. I did not quite get the vibe or heat between her and Marc Prince as Ed Earl. I felt that Prince was slightly miscast a the cussing and fist-throwing sheriff who has a past with Miss Mona. He has no twang, no Texas lawman swagger, and there are several missed beats in reactions and lines.

Marc Prince and David Blakeman. Photo by Liz Lauren.

Cynthia Carter raised the roof with "Twenty Four Hours of Lovin.'" Carter embodies the stiff spine and attitude of being the manager of a whorehouse with her best friend. She is fun to watch and it's a pleasure to hear her sing. She carried the duet "Good Old Girl" with Prince who has a nice voice; this was his best part in the play. Chamaya Moody and Michaela Shapiro are standouts as two girls who show up at Miss Mona's door looking for jobs but need manners, better clothes, and a healthy attitude toward sex. The ensemble song "A Lil' Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place" has a great tagline- "there ain't nothing dirty goin' on here".

This musical brings in the early concept of reality tv with sleaze mongers and crusaders in the character of Melvin P. Thorpe. David Blakeman is hilarious as the big mouth with no tabloid show host hiding in the bushes and popping in with a flash camera at delicate moments. Blakeman also affects the perfect high-pitched drawl and indignation at the thought of a whorehouse in his town. Teddy Gales is a triple threat in spotlight roles as the Governor, the Senator, and the Mayor. This trio of characters is similar but Gales shines in all three roles and crafts them as very distinct. The mayor is eating Tums like breath mints and is comically twitchy. The Governor is whatever will get him elected and wears the mantle of a Christian to not "upset the Baptist vote." The Senator is a scoundrel who promises the football team a night at the Chicken Ranch for winning the football game. The only things they have in common are being spineless and opportunistic, like quite a few politicians.

Teddy Gales. Photo by Liz Lauren.

The ensemble sings with big Broadway voices and Jenna Schoppe's choreography is fun to watch and makes me wish I could dance along. Cabaret theater is up close and personal; it requires discipline from the ensemble and hitting every mark. Theo Ubique has always put great talent on their stage. Quite a few in the ensemble play more than one role. Halle Bins is sweet and poignant as lonely waitress Doatsy and sassy-pants Ruby Rae at the Chicken Ranch. Quinn Simmons is fabulous as Dawn and is also the Dance Captain of this shindig. Keep an eye out for Michaela Shapiro as the abused girl Shy. The scene between them and Sheridan Smith gives the heartstrings a tug.

I recommend The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas at Theo Ubique with some reservations. The role of Sheriff Ed Earl is too central and needs to be on the same beat with high energy as the rest of the cast. It needs some tightening and some work on the chemistry between the sheriff and Miss Mona. The cabaret setting makes it a fun way to spend the evening. Some of the actors wait tables before the opening and during the intermission.

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas by Theo Ubique, 721 Howard St. in Evanston, runs Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 6pm until January 29. There is a break December 22-25 and no performance on January 1. Running time is 2.5 hours with a 15-minute intermission. Tickets are $45-$55 and are available at the box office or buy them online.

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Kathy D. Hey

Kathy D. Hey writes creative non-fiction essays. A lifelong Chicagoan, she is enjoying life with her husband, daughter and three dogs in the wilds of Edgewater. When she isn’t at her computer, she is in her garden growing vegetables and herbs for kitchen witchery.