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The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas at McKeesport Little Theater

Some good performances elevate an overmatched production

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Whenever a whorehouse opens in town, I am the first in line. And I’m not dickering around. The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is based on the true story of a legendary Texas brothel that operated from the 1840s to 1973. Boasting a sharp, sassy book by Peter Masterson and Larry L. King and a poignant, rollicking score by Carol Hall, Whorehouse somehow remains an underrated work. Whenever a community theater mounts the show, I figure the company has the talent, tenacity and, in the lingo of a whore, the balls to make the show work.

But a new production at the McKeesport Little Theater has too much working against its ambition. At 15 members (plus a four-member band), the cast is too small, spoiling attempts at double- and triple-casting. One song is sung by the wrong character; and “The Aggie Song,” in which a football team gathers at the Chicken Ranch to celebrate, is performed by four actors, all of whom we see too many times. Confusion reigns and the suspension of disbelief dips lower than most ladies’ cleavage.

The no-nonsense madam Miss Mona is played by Hope Anthony, here in her only role. She’s fine, but we’re in trouble when she sings “The Bus From Amarillo.” By placing the song as the show’s finale instead of the first-act closing song, director Catherine Gallagher throws the musical off-center, since Whorehouse must end with Hall’s “Hard Candy Christmas.”

However, the show has are two major plusses. Though forced to play multiple roles, Jeremy Kuharcik is rock-solid as Miss Mona’s lover, Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd. I guarantee he will tug at your heartstrings as he says a final goodbye to Miss Mona, remembering her as a “Good Old Girl.” Also a plus: Tim Tolbert. Despite playing several roles, he is zesty as Melvin P. Thorpe, the TV crusader who ends up shutting the pleasure palace for good. The show’s program left out Tolbert’s bio — a move so unconscionable that if this were Broadway, fines would be levied. So we praise him: Tolbert is worth the price of admission. You can be cocksure about that.

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