IS IT POSSIBLE to have too much fun doing community theater? A happy group of Tybee Islanders is trying to find out. The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is being presented by the Tybee Arts Association, and everyone involved is having a blast.
“It’s a thigh-slapping, foot-stomping, s--t-kicking, PG-rated show,” director Mel Gordon says. “It’s a fun show.
“The Broadway show is a little different from the movie version,” he says. “The show itself is a kind of South Georgia thing.
“We’ve got a lot of great women in it,” Gordon says. “And Tybee is noted as being a little wacky.”
The group has done a musical before, and had fun with that one, too. “We did South Pacific,” Gordon says. “Everyone said it was time to do a musical again.”
Whorehouse will be presented April 4, 5 and 6, hopefully on the Tybee pier. “When we did South Pacific, the threat of a hurricane stopped us,” Gordon says. “You never know what will happen.”
Gordon is a bit worried about the weather. “You can’t imagine what it’s like to do a sound system in the wind,” he says.
“We booked the pier months ahead,” Gordon says. “It was the only way we could find three days in a row.”
Even on Tybee, there are some naysayers when it comes to the musical’s subject matter. “We have do-gooders coming in and trying to change things,” Gordon says.
“One thing we had a little problem with was the ‘God damn this’ and the ‘God damn that’ that the sheriff says,” he says. “That’s the way men talk.”
When the show was announced, a lot of people wanted to get involved. “We have a cast of 60-plus,” Gordon says.
“The funny thing is, when you say you’re looking for whores, women fall out of the aisles,” he says. “It’s mainly the older women, who did want to be whores and didn’t get the chance to do it.
“I’d ask, ‘You want to be one of the whores in the show?’ and they’d say, ‘Oh, yeah! That would be fun!,’” Gordon says. “It’s not hard getting whores on Tybee.”
With such a big cast, the roles range from leads to extras. “We have great leads, which is amazing in a community like this,” Gordon says.
“The guy who plays the sheriff could be on Broadway, no joke,” he says. “Mona the madam is played by the mayor’s wife.
“We have what I call house whores -- they don’t sing, they don’t dance, but they look good,” Gordon says. “The bottom line is that we’ve got a mix of people who might otherwise never have met who are now hugging and kissing and falling all over each other.
“These guys do a great job,” he says. “What’s happened is we don’t have paid people. Professional actors do it for a living, so they come in for rehearsal, and when it’s over, they hurry home.
“These folks come in and have a good time. When rehearsal is over, they’re ready to sing and dance some more.”
In addition to a stellar cast, the musical has an impressive two-story set. “We had to build the set outside because it’s so big, then we’ll move it to the pier,” Gordon says.
The original Broadway production opened on June 19, 1978. In 1982, a feature film was released that starred Burt Reynolds as Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd and Dolly Parton as Miss Mona Stangley, the whorehouse madam.
Set in the late 1970s, Whorehouse is the story of a brothel that has been operating outside of fictional Gilbert, Texas, for more than a century. And with the blessing of local law enforcement.
A crusading television reporter named Melvin P. Thorpe finds out about the brothel and decides to expose it. The ensuing publicity causes political ramifications and the brothel is closed down.
The story is based on an actual place that was located outside LaGrange, Texas. Many of the characters are based on real people.
“The original Chicken Ranch is still in operation,” Gordon says. “It’s moved to Nevada, about 20 minutes outside Las Vegas. They don’t take chickens any more, though, just money.”
Having such a large cast did pose some problems. “It’s a challenge in the sense of trying to find the time,” Gordon says. “These people work. When you schedule rehearsal, someone is going to miss it.
“We had a bout with the flu. I think everyone got it,” he says. “Overall, everyone is doing very good, although some are more dedicated than others.”
Gordon is the perfect director for the production. “I started out as a music major at the University of Georgia,” he says. “I used to do summer stock in Atlanta, then worked a couple of years in New York.
“I was drafted during the Vietnam era, then came back to New York. I went to California for a while, but couldn’t make a living at it.
“I married and had four daughters,” Gordon says. “I was still doing summer stock here and there, and I did a show in Savannah back in the 70s, Annie Get Your Gun.”
After a divorce, Gordon went back to California, where he once played the role of Ed Earl. “I did that particular show in Oxnard,” he says.
“I’ve directed some and been in quite a few shows,” Gordon says. “I’m a singer/actor with a big, strong, loud voice.”
Gordon came back to Georgia to visit a friend on Tybee Island, where he met his current wife. They own the Atlantis Inn, a hotel with themed rooms.
A portion of the proceeds from Whorehouse will used for the renovation of the Old Post Theatre. “The Post Theatre is in my heart and I want to see it preserved,” Gordon says.
Tom Kurtz plays the side-stepping Texas governor. “He’s a typical politician who doesn’t want to make a commitment on a controversial issue,” Kurtz says. “He’s kind of caught between a rock and hard place with a group of people who want the Chicken Ranch to be closed because they feel it’s an immoral institution. Then there are those who want to make it a national monument.
Kurtz has been in eight productions over the past four years after moving to Savannah. “I’ve been in about six SCAD films and an ABC pilot,” he says.
“I haven’t sung and danced in any production,” Kurtz says. “I’ve done drama and comic roles, and I’ve been in musicals but haven’t had to sing a solo.”
Eddie Wilson is the musical director for the show. He’s impressed by the work done by the cast.
“It’s a large number of very excited friends,” Wilson says. “They did do their homework. By the time I first heard them at the first rehearsal I attended, they already knew 80 percent of the show.”
Wilson came to Savannah five years ago and is the musical director for the Savannah Theatre. He also produces Oh, Savannah, a Johnny Mercer show.
Working on the production is certainly different from Wilson’s regular job. “The number one thing is the fact that these people could choose to do anything they want with their time, and they choose to do this,” he says.
“At the Savannah Theatre, this is just the thing we do. We’re identified by it, which creates an intensely professional show. On the island, you look within your cast for your fun and approval, and in the theater, you have to look to your audience. My partners at Savannah Theatre take for granted a certain level of professionalism and talent,” Wilson says.
“On Tybee, everyone has a day job and at night becomes a character. It’s always a wonderful roller coaster ride to see what they have under their sleeves.”Tybee Arts Association's Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.When: April 4 and 5 at 7:30 p.m. and April 6 at 3 and 7:30 p.m.Where: Tybee Island Pier and Pavilion.Cost: $20. Tickets may be purchased at the door, online or at Gallery By the Sea or Atlantic Beacon Gallery on Tybee Island.Info: www.tybeearts.org