In the early 1900s, the Chicken Ranch opened its doors in small-town Texas. Except this wasn’t a ranch at all. Instead of hens, this ranch sold blowjobs. Instead of farmers, there were scantily clad women and scads of men who came and went. This was a successful hotel-turned-brothel, and it remained in operation until 1973, when it shuttered forever. The battle over that brothel is the subject of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, a raunchy musical comedy written in 1978 that recounts the circumstances—some based on historical fact, some imagined—that led to the ranch’s closure. As the show details, a yearslong love affair between the town’s sheriff and the whorehouse's madam had allowed the ranch to remain in business. But when a conservative local newsman exposes the sordid activity to the rest of the town, the brothel must shut down.
This Broadway Rose production, directed by Peggy Taphorn, is mostly successful. The singing is spot-on, even if some of the lyrics are hokey, and the acting is strong. As the teen mom-turned-prostitute Angel, Claire Rigsby shines with a Southern drawl and go-get-’em personality. The choreography is wonderfully tight: It’s a delight to watch the sashaying women and tap-dancing football players. But Best Little Whorehouse is almost too lighthearted. That’s not to say you should expect an incisive examination of prostitution from a production that calls itself a “boot-stompin’ comedy,” but with all the focus on sanctimonious preachers, exposed legs and getting lucky, we learn little about the lives of these women. There’s boot stompin’, for sure, but not much else.
GO: The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is at the Deb Fennell Auditorium, 9000 SW Durham Road, Tigard, 620-5262. 7:30 pm Thursdays-Fridays; 2 and 7:30 pm Saturdays; and 2 pm Sundays through Aug. 17. $20-$45. Tickets here.