The Hippo


Jul 22, 2019








The cast of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Courtesy photo.

See The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

Where: Palace Theatre, 80 Hanover St., Manchester
When: Oct. 21 through Nov. 12. See website for dates and times.
Admission: $25-$45
Contact:, 668-5588

Sexiest show in town
Palace presents Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

By Kelly Sennott

 The first time Palace Theatre Artistic Director Carl Rajotte saw The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, he was in the sixth grade and working the spotlight for a dinner theater production in Georgetown, Massachusetts, that his dad was acting in.

Even as a preteen, Rajotte was eager to sit in the director’s chair.
“I remember watching it and thinking, someday I’m going to choreograph this show,” Rajotte said at the theater recently. “I remember thinking, why aren’t the girls dancing more? And when the football guys came on, I thought, why aren’t they moving? This is such great music!”
He finally got his chance with the Palace Theatre’s premiere of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, which opens Friday, Oct. 21, with shows through Nov. 12. 
The story is well-known for its 1982 film version starring Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds, but it was a musical first, with book by Larry King and Peter Masterson and music and lyrics by Carol Hall. It opened on Broadway in 1978 and ran for 1,584 performances.
It takes place in the 1970s and is about a brothel that’s been operating outside the fictional town of Gilbert, Texas. Miss Mona Stangley is the proprietor, and she takes care of her girls while maintaining good relationships with the local sheriff and community — until a television reporter comes to town and makes the illegal activity an issue. 
“The cool thing about this show is it is based on a true story. It’s very interesting. The house was in Texas, and it was very famous. It was illegal, obviously, but it was tolerated by everyone around, including the politicians and the law enforcement,” Rajotte said.
The real-life Chicken Ranch in La Grange, Texas, operated from 1905 to 1973. The women working there had strict rules. About 75 percent of their paycheck went to the proprietor, Edna Milton, and in return, prostitutes got free housing, food and health care, with weekly medical check-ups. 
What they were able to keep was equivalent to about $200 to $300 today, said Rajotte, who’s been spending a lot of time researching the real story. His findings have informed his direction.
“These women were really powerful women. They were in control,” Rajotte said. “All of our blocking, all of our stage directions, all of our choreography, it’s always with the woman in the lead. She’s initiating everything.”
There’s an interesting, dynamic plot to the show, with tender moments Rajotte wasn’t expecting. He mentioned one scene the cast had run through the day before.
“One of the rules to be a girl in this house is that you can’t have a husband or kids or any of that. The owner didn’t want to have that complication,” Rajotte said. “Secretly, one of the [new] girls does have a child at home, and she gets caught on the phone talking to her child and telling her mom she’ll be back as soon as she makes some money. It’s a tender, tender scene.”
Every year, the Palace produces a whole gamut of styles — family shows, comedies, dramas — and at least one “sexy show” aimed at adults. The theater and sponsors are marketing this as “the sexiest show in town,” which actually forced Rajotte to make some adjustments.
“I went back to the script, and I thought, this doesn’t really lend itself to ‘the sexiest show in town.’ So we’re upping the ante quite a bit. … I’ve put the guys in more numbers than they usually are [in]. … The music lends itself to have a little bit of a honky-tonk, country feel, and so we’re playing it with a faster tempo,” Rajotte said.
The costumes are sexy and revealing — think Frederick’s of Hollywood, Rajotte said — and the set design will be “almost like Texas throwing up on the stage,” with red, white and blue coloring, ropes, wagon wheels and neon lighting to offer a red-light district, contemporary air. 
“We’re calling it the sexiest show in town, and it definitely has a lot of humor. People are going to laugh hard,” Rajotte said. “But there was also an interesting plot in this show.” 

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