Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Stage

Lots of laughs in season-ending shows at Stage West, Richey Suncoast

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The Nature Coast's two largest community theaters — Stage West Community Playhouse and Richey Suncoast Theatre — are ending the 2013-14 season with rollicking musicals, one a slightly bawdy romp, the other a zany farce.

Stage West is doing The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, based on the real-life bordello nicknamed the "Chicken Ranch" outside of LaGrange, Texas, that was a favorite hangout for farmers, ranchers, businessmen, politicians and students from nearby Texas A&M University. The musical played for more than four years on Broadway and is a favorite of regional and community theater actors and audiences.

Richey Suncoast's offering is Spamalot, a spoof of their recently presented musical drama Camelot. Based on the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it won three Tony Awards, including one for Best Musical of the 2004-05 season, and was seen by more than 2 million people.

• • •

The infamous Chicken Ranch upon which The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is based was open from 1905 to 1973, when a blue-nosed attorney general prompted a rabble-rousing television personality named Marvin Zindler to crusade to close the apparently harmless brothel in central East Texas. Five years later, writers Larry L. King and Peter Masterson and composer Carol Hall embellished the story a bit and wrote the musical.

The place got its name during the Great Depression, when business got so bad that then-owner Jessie Williams agreed to trade out the girls' favors for poultry — one chicken for one sexual act. Before long, she had a thriving chicken and egg business, in addition to keeping her 14-room "farm house" busy 24 hours a day.

The musical starts shortly before TV crusader Melvin P. Thorpe (Sam Petricone, Duane in Harvey) suddenly realizes that Texas Has a Whorehouse in It. Until then, it had flown under the radar, thanks to understanding law enforcement officers, particularly Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd (Gary Depp, HAMI for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) and local merchants who appreciated the ranch's purchases.

Owner/proprietor Miss Mona (Leanne Germann, numerous HAMIs) is caught unaware and continues business, even as local waitress Doatsey Mae (Misty Hornsby) wishes she could work there and the governor of Texas (Dalton Benson, Max in The Producers) does The Sidestep to avoid enraging the ranch's best customers, who are also some his most loyal backers.

It all ends on a wistful note, but not before some rousing singing and dancing by the Aggie boys, the Dogettes, the Girls and the Angelettes.

The director is Lynda Dilts-Benson, with Carol Ballard as music director.

• • •

Don't expect any engrossing drama — or even an altogether comprehensible comedy — from Spamalot. As any Monty Python fan knows, anything with that name attached is filled with madcap sight gags, anachronistic references and scenes, outrageous pratfalls, silly miscommunications and politically incorrect pronouncements, and it's all for forehead-slapping laughs.

For example, the entire opening scene is based on the actors' mis-hearing what the narrator has said, so they start the action in Finland instead of England. Oh.

It moves to England, where King Arthur (Bob Marcela, Arthur in Camelot) is searching for knights for his Round Table, accompanied by his sidekick Patsy (George Brazier), who bangs two halves of a coconut together to make the sound of horses' hooves. Soon, there's an appearance by the Lady of the Lake (Jesslyn Kostopoulos, Charity in Sweet Charity) and the Laker Girls, who do a quick Laker Girls Cheer.

They all make it to Camelot, which looks strangely like modern-day Las Vegas' Excalibur resort, with showgirls and a Cher impersonator. Then comes the voice of God (Will Nichols, who also plays Sir Galahad's mother and a monk) to order them to find the Holy Grail. They're taunted by French soldiers and, to retaliate, send in a wooden rabbit in the style of the Trojan Horse — except they fail to put any soldiers inside the rabbit. The French retaliate by sending cancan dancers after them.

Get the picture?

Many of the 21 cast members play a number of characters, with men playing women, and women just playing. Marie Skelton is the director, with Steve Schildbach as music director and Amanda Witt as choreographer.

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