At Signature Theater, pretty much from the beginning and for the last 22 years, everything old has found a way to be new again.
While the Virginia company, much honored with Helen Hayes Awards over the years, has mounted new dramas and musicals every year, a specialty of the group under the leadership of artistic director Eric Schaeffer has been to stage numerous hit Broadway musicals, especially those from the legendary composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim.
Usually, the musicals, under Schaeffer’s direction and the Signature imprint, tend to somehow look and feel newly minted and original.
That’s likely going to be the case for “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” with a book by Larry L. King and Peter Masterson and music and lyrics by Carol Hall. It first saw the light of Broadway in 1978, was remounted successfully over a decade ago with Ann-Margret and was a not-so-critically acclaimed film with Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton.
“Whorehouse,” based on a magazine article by King, centers around a Texas-sized controversy over a house of ill repute which has been operating happily in a small town for almost as long as there has been a Texas. Suddenly, thanks to a crusader journalist, there’s a move afoot to close it down for good. Drama, conflict and major hypocrisy ensue.
“This is going to be a different ‘Whorehouse’ than people might be used to,” Schaeffer said in a phone interview. “For one thing, I think it’s going to be more people-oriented. We’re trying to avoid clichés here. The girls who work at the Chicken Ranch are going to be seen as people. They’re going to be very vivid And, let’s face it, political hypocrisy will certainly echo in the Washington area. It’s an election year, after all.”
The show won’t be weighed down with the burden of star turns of the kind (Reynolds as a sheriff, Parton as a madam) that did in the film version. Signature, even when there are star roles, has always been an ensemble effort, no matter what they do and “Whorehouse” will be no exception. “Take Mona, for instance, who runs the place. She has to look out for her girls when all the fuss erupts. The house is like an institution, a tradition around there and, of course, politicians are part of the regular customer list,” Shaeffer said.
Sherri L. Edelen will take on the major role of Miss Mona. She’s a veteran of numerous successful Signature productions, which have garnered her two Helen Hayes Awards (“Les Miserables” and “Side Show”) and nominations.
“A gritty satire about moral hypocrisy and media sensationalism, this musical is the perfect election-year event,” as the press release announces, “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” runs through Oct. 7.