'Best Little Whorehouse in Texas' on stage at Harford Community College

Phoenix Festival Theater is offering a romp on the racy side with its production of "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas."

The leggy "working girls" have lots of glitz and their male "guests" wear cowboy boots and yell the occasional gleeful "Yee-haw!" The Tony-award winning musical, with book by Larry L. King and Peter Masterson and music and lyrics by Carol Hall, is based on a story by Larry L. King. There really was a brothel in Texas called the "Chicken Ranch" (because sometimes, chickens were accepted in barter). It operated from 1905 to 1973. The local sheriff really did protect it and a TV muckraker did crusade against it. Richard Mahoney directs, with musical direction by Jeff Baker and rambunctious choreography by Kim Brueggemann.

The show runs through March 17 at the Chesapeake Theater at Harford Community College, 410 Thomas Run Road near Bel Air. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are $10 to $20. Call 443-412-2211 or visit http://www.harford.edu/cultural.

Laurie Sentman Starkey, who plays Miss Mona, the owner the Chicken Ranch, describes her character as having "a heart of gold." She cares about her girls, who she says are "kind of castoffs, ragtag girls who have lost their way, a mixed crew."

Years ago, she played "working girl" Ginger at Harborlights Dinner Theater, a production which she also choreographed. Later, she choreographed the show for Towson Dinner Theatre.

"I feel like I have come full circle, playing Miss Mona," she said.

As always, the busy actress has more to do than is possible. For example, her son, Josh, plays the captain and Sir Edward in his school production of "The King and I." Her only chance to see the show was the Saturday night before "Best Little" opened. Cast members from Tidewater Players' "Proof" came to see a weekday rehearsal because their performance schedule kept them from seeing a regular performance. Because of her own performance schedule, Starkey, who is the president of Tidewater Players, will not be able to see "Proof" at all.

Mark Briner plays "good old boy" Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd.

"He loves Miss Mona, but because of the media invasion, for he first time, he's out of his element," Briner said. "He supports Mona as long as he can. He's the last straw to go."

Jeff Harrison plays Melvin P. Thorpe, the self-proclaimed Watch Dog who shines his weekly TV spotlight on shady goings-on. He even barks to start his show and his followers are called Dogettes. His latest crusade is the Chicken Ranch.

"He's a televangelist news reporter, very flamboyant," the Bel Air actor said. "He starts crusades, and he likes the fact that he has a following."

Jillian Victoria plays Angel, one of Mona's newest hires.

"She has had to turn to this lifestyle to make a living and support her family," Victoria, from Bel Air, said. "She has a son at home."

Melissa Broy Fortson plays Jewel, Mona's housekeeper, and Pat Gilbert plays Miss Wulla Jean, the Ranch's former owner. The "working girls" include Elisa Dugan (Shy), Natalie Knox (Linda Lou), Bevin Hensley (Dawn), Lizz Galley (Ginger), Carissa McCool (Beatrice), Danielle Lott (Taddy Jo), Jackie Kappus (Ruby Rae), and Kelsey Yurek (Durla). H. Ray Lawson (Mayor Rufus Poindexter), Bob Belman (Senator Wingwoah) and Steve Flickinger (Leroy Sliney) are among the community leaders who learn to do "The Sidestep" when things heat up.

Dawn Stevens plays Doatsey Mae, a waitress with dreams of a better life, Dave Guy plays Scruggs, Leonard Gilbert plays Edsel Mackey and Carol Guarrieri plays Angelette. Members of the Aggies football team, who visit the Ranch after winning their game, are Ray Cook, Valentino Lagano, Brandon Molle, Derrick Goodmuth, Brad Mascari and Matt Peterson. The company includes Carrie Dill, Nickolas C. Epps, Dominic LaFrancesca, Vonni Endrik, Jamie Friedel and Michelle Neal.

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