In the early 1900s, Miss Jessie Williams opened a brothel on 10 acres of land outside the city limits of La Grange, Texas. The sprawling 14-bedroom farmhouse with chickens in the side yard became known as the Chicken Ranch, and many a politician and lawman passed behind its whitewashed walls.
Prostitution was illegal in Texas, but Miss Jessie ran a neat and tidy business and the local sheriff turned a blind eye to goings-on at the Chicken Ranch - except to keep tabs on any crime-related tips from its employees. Meanwhile, if any customers started acting up, Miss Jessie ran them out of the house with an iron rod.
Things went along just fine until the 1970s when a nosy TV reporter got folks riled up, and the Chicken Ranch, then owned by former prostitute Miss Edna Milton (Miss Jessie's protege), finally faced the last act of its illustrious career.
Maui OnStage / KRISTI SCOTT photo
Robenn Robb is Farmer and Emilie Howlett is Shy in “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”
“Miss Mona’s Girls,” Lauren Olsen (from left), Jessica Dungans, Sharleen Lagattuta, Jennifer Gibson (hidden face) Julie Kawamura, Sarah Loney, Aleisha Robb, Brooke Sepulveda, Noelani Neal and Lauren Burgess know how to keep quiet in the establishment.
Maui Academy of Performing Arts photo
Mikeila Yamamoto plays the brave star of MAPA’s “Disney’s Mulan Junior,” opening Friday
It's a true story and an intriguing one, and it makes an enticing plot for "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," opening Friday night at Wailuku's Historic Iao Theater.
Kristi Scott directs the Maui OnStage musical production, which features 53 local actors, including some fresh faces in Maui theater.
Natalie Raynes stars as Miss Mona, the role made famous by Dolly Parton in the 1982 film version of "Best Little Whorehouse" with Burt Reynolds.
*"The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" opens Friday and runs through Sunday, Aug. 2. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for students and seniors, $15 for Sunday matinees; available at If the Shoe Fits in Wailuku and Lava Java in Kihei, online at www.mauionstage.com or by calling 242-6969.
*"Mulan" runs through July 19 at Steppingstone Playhouse at Queen Ka'ahumanu Center. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $12 for adults, $8 for kids 12 and younger; available at the mall's customer service kiosk, online at www.mauiacademy.org or by calling 244-8760.
Raynes' Southern accent is so convincing, I ask her where she's from in the South. She laughs delightedly and tells me she's from California, and spent 10 years acting in L.A. before moving to Maui last year.
"I thought I'd have to trade in my acting career to come live in paradise, but I'm thrilled to find such talent and a wonderful theater community here," she says.
Miss Mona brings class to the world's oldest profession, requiring her employees to dress nicely and act respectably. As Raynes says: "I don't hire 'hookers'; they're my girls I've got my house full of girls, and I'm like the mother hen at the Chicken Ranch."
Playing one of Mona's "girls" is Casey Murphy, who moved here last year from a lifetime of acting in Virginia, and now makes her Maui debut as Angel.
"My character is on the streets, and she seeks refuge at Mona's," Murphy says. "Even though the play is about 'whores,' it's also about female empowerment. They are protected from the men, they take care of themselves, and they have some pride."
The task of bringing together all the musical's rollickin' dance pieces falls to another Maui newcomer: visiting Maine choreographer Alden Caple.
Caple met MOS Executive Director Alexis Dascoulias and "Whorehouse" musical director Steven Dascoulias in a New Hampshire theater program when he was in 5th grade. He kept in contact with them after their move to Maui in 2007. "When I heard they were doing 'Whorehouse,' I sent Alexis an e-mail saying, 'If you need a choreographer ' " Caple says.
The show is one of his favorites, but he didn't know what to expect when he arrived on Maui for the first time after auditions. "It was a little scary because I left a lot of things open," he says. "I did dance call on my first day just to see what I'd get (and) I was impressed by the quality."
Caple says the real showstopper will be "The Aggie Song" - a male dance number that Murphy and Raynes describe as "nonstop energy and testosterone and sweat and shirtless boys!"
Of course, given the brothel setting, the boys aren't the only ones to be scantily clad. But overall, the musical doesn't contain anything too scandalous, the actors say - just some mild language and innuendo.
"I think people are just shocked by the word 'whorehouse,' " Caple says.
"But compared to some of the stuff you see when you turn on the TV, it's nothing!" Murphy points out.
One thing's for sure: "The show is gonna get people talkin'!" Raynes says.
And then in her best syrupy Southern drawl, Miss Mona adds: "Y'all come back now!"
Ancient China comes to life at Steppingstone Playhouse with the opening of "Disney's Mulan Junior." Starring Mikeila Yamamoto as brave Mulan, the Maui Academy of Performing Arts production features 48 students from MAPA's Sum'R Musical Theatre Camp as they recreate the fantastic tale about the Huns invading China. Director Kathleen Schulz designed the costumes, and musical director Marti Kluth and choreographer Barry Brinker Jones added their guidance to the many musical numbers.
For the last month, 47 students enrolled in Theatre Theatre Maui's 17thsummer program have been immersed in daily vocal, dance and acting lessons at LahainalunaHigh School. Led by program director Ashlie Welte, a team of theater professionals - including Vania Lee Jerome, Aly Cardinalli, Lauren Olsen, Dan Rib and Genie Calagna -have been sharing their creative energy with the young performers. All their hard work will pay off next weekend, when TTM presents "Disney's Beauty and the Beast Junior" at The Westin Maui Resort & Spa. The musical runs for one weekend only, at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 17 and 18; and 5 p.m. Sunday, July 19. A special morning matinee for Summer PALS and the Boys & Girls Club will be held on July 16.
Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for youth under 12, free for children under 2; available at the door. For more information, call 661-1168 or e-mail TTMWestMaui@aol.com
Maui OnStage will hold auditions this weekend for the '09 - '10 season-opening production of "The Odd Couple" (Female Version), directed by Mark Collmer. Neil Simon updated his classic play in 1986 to create this witty version, which features Olive and Florence moving in together after Florence spontaneously ends her marriage.
Auditions will begin at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Historic Iao Theater.Women 21 and older, with all levels of acting experience, are encouraged to audition.Rehearsals begin July 20, and the play runs Sept. 18 to 27. To make an audition appointment or to obtain a copy of the script, call 244-8680, ext. 23.