Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Naughty but exceedingly nice

Whorehouse is more of a crowded house. It's pretty busy down at the old Chicken Ranch

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

The Arcadians

Crescent Theatre, Birmingham


THIS engagingly naughty show - it provides the Sheriff with some distinctly unmusical-type language - is something of a step into the unknown for a group that has been going for 30 years and is more accustomed to the decorous than the daring.

But having said that, it would be a discerning patron who would suspect that this is something of a major step for a company that is offering such a happy evening for its supporters. That is to say, The Arcadians are acclimatising well.

There are blemishes, the lighting being the one that is particularly prominent; and the accents of the Deep South do sometimes go astray. But the Crescent's Ian Thompson, on his home ground as the director, has conjured an evening of honest endeavour that includes several particularly pleasing performances.

Simon Burgess is Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd - he of the uninhibited linguistic tendencies - and the role fits him like a favourite glove. He is the law-and-order man in a state where we gather that it's all right not to give a damn if folks occasionally like their asses tickled with feathers and where it's accepted that men ain't all bad - just 92 per cent. He and the men's chorus score decisively with Good Old Girl when the lads drop into his office.

Miss Mona (Annabel Smith) and  Sherriff Ed Earl Dodd (Simon Burgess) discuss some of the finer points of bordelloing

But it is the Chicken Ranch which is the centre of attraction and action. This is the high-class bordello whose flaunt-filled services are provided by a happy  group of girls under the watchful eye of Miss Mona, a straight-talkin' lady whom Annabel Smith brings into her own - particularly after the interval and even more particularly right at the end, with her account of The Bus from Amarillo.

In the first half, I felt she needed a little more assertiveness, but in the end it is easy to see how she and the girls achieve her objectives of mass volume and repeat business.

Hers is a world into which we are led by the two Lauras - Laura Peters (Angel) and Laura Brett (Shy). We meet them early on as an engaging but very different pair of friends and it's a shame that the script by Larry King and Peter Masterson does not make more of them thereafter.

Kris Evans offers a cherubic Melvyn P Thorpe, broadcaster and anti-Chicken Ranch campaigner, with Ann-Louise McGregor a decisive Jewel who scores with Twenty-four Hours of Lovin', and Elaine Struthers a delightfully appealing Doatsy Mae - a Doatsy Mae, moreover, who does not suddenly turn into an English rose when she is required to sing "I wannied to." Hers is a lovely cameo performance.

The programme describes Mike Carter as "a chorus fixture for over 50 shows" who has taken various minor roles. This time, he is Senator Wingwoah. Tall of stature, amiable of mien, he makes an agreeable contribution that accords entirely with the spirit that the production conveys.

It is John Morrison (Bandleader) who confidently gets the whole thing going at the start when he leads the choir in 20 Fans. 

Clare Fray has conjured some spirited chorus work The men, with The Aggie Song, and the girls, with Girl, You're a Woman, repay her well. Musical direction is by Lauren Coles, whose six-strong group of musicians are hiding under the stage balcony and their cowboy hats. To 09-04-11

John Slim 

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