The Camelot Theatre Company in Talent has for some long years evolved a winning formula for successful productions, with a strong emphasis on Broadway favorites and marquee productions that are highly identifiable and generally well acted and produced. The first production that was fully under the creative control of the new artistic director, Shawn Ramagos — “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” — was a roaring success, with an abundance of talent and great production value.
Ramagos’s second production for Camelot is not nearly so strong, and one would hope that more productions like “Priscilla” will be forthcoming, lest that past show be seen as a product of beginner’s luck.
“The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” has been reviewed favorably at other newspapers, so maybe I was missing something on the night that I attended. Sets and costumes were well conceived, and the music was familiar to many in the audience, who sang along and seemed to be enjoying the show well enough. Having never seen “Whorehouse” myself — perhaps as a result of being raised abroad — I came to it fresh, with affirmations from friends and family that it has always been a highly entertaining musical.
At Camelot this last Saturday night, those assertions proved to be bullish. “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” is labored, and hammy, and excruciating — so much so that I found myself eagerly sticking to the accompanying Playbill — not as an aide-mémoire to the onstage antics, but more as a flotation device to carry me through a sea of excremental mediocrity to the far shore of the first intermission.
Performances, on the whole, felt wooden and joyless, and the various cast members who populated the whorehouse did not come across as particularly adept when it came to playing lascivious sluts, a fact that may have come as a relief to parents or spouses, but did very little to promote participatory enthusiasm in any audience member not so viscerally attached. Dance numbers were boringly choreographed and anemically rendered. Texas accents were rather too swashbuckling to be believable, and most of the troupers seemed to be caricaturing the roles they inhabited, as opposed to taking it all a little more delicately in order to give the acting some room to breathe. I rolled my eyes a good half dozen times before the curtain finally came crashing down.
There were notable beacons in the squall, among them Cyd Charise Ropp Ph.D. (sic) as Mona, the den mother of the brothel, and Lanny Horn as Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd. Ropp is particularly pleasing as a tough but warmhearted surrogate parent to her stable of pros, while Horn (who started acting in his teens and is now working his third show at Camelot) is given to excellent comic timing, filling up the stage with his interpretation of a small town sheriff. The two performers carry the rest of the cat house on their shoulders.
Maxwell Bruhn as Melvin P. Thorpe — a newsman with an Evangelical bent — is amusing enough, but could have done a lot more with the role if every line wasn’t delivered with an indiscriminate tidal wave of Texas-twanged enthusiasm. These three performances almost save the show, but can’t. In stark contrast to “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” — which was inundated with familiar and professional Valley actors — the cast was mostly either brand new or relatively new to Camelot, and it showed.
There is a live band relegated to the backstage area, entirely unseen, a peculiar choice for a lower budget venue where the dollars spent might do well to be made more visible. Had I missed the fact that live musicians were on site, I would probably have thought that Camelot had simply updated their sound design.
I wish I could say that this production is worth a look — I care about local theater and the artists it supports. As a critic, however, I’m obligated to let you know that this is the worst show I’ve seen at Camelot in a long while, perhaps ever. I look forward to the next production, and to the opportunity for giving a better review.
Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at email@example.com.