Scantily clad women? Yep. Half-naked men? Yep. Cussing, cursing and innuendo? Yessirree.
But there's a lot more to Maui OnStage's production of "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" than negligee and cowboy boots. Director Kristi Scott and a talented cast and crew have created a full-bodied spectacle of amazing dancing, marvelous singing and genuine emotion.
The fun begins with the set. Lighting and scenic designer Todd Van Amburgh has transformed the Historic Iao Theater into a sultry bordello: the Chicken Ranch, the domain of Miss Mona Stangley and her "girls."
Maui OnStage photo
The ladies of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” Julie Kawamura (clockwise from top), Lauren Burgess, Sarah Loney, Natalie Raynes, Jessica Dungas, Casey Murphey, Lauren Olsenare are taking over the Historic Iao Theater for another weekend of performances.
Fans spin from the ceiling, and curving around both sides of the stage is a wide red-carpeted staircase, up which the girls lead their "guests" (don't even think about using the word "johns" around Miss Mona). Red lighting accentuates their profession, with ample use of feminine silhouettes against the sheer curtains.
But lest you think this is an X-rated show, allow Miss Mona (the lovely Natalie Raynes) to set your mind at ease: "There's nothing dirty goin' on!" Mona lays down the code of conduct in "A Lil' Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place": act like a lady, or else pack your bags.
It's a code that worked well for decades at the legendary Chicken Ranch in La Grange, Texas - the real-life basis for the 1978 Broadway musical (that later became a movie starring Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds). The show with the scandalous title was once picketed and protested, but you'd never know it from the packed crowd at the Iao on opening night.
* Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays; through Aug. 2. The show is not appropriate for children. 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.
Cowboy-hat-wearing narrator Mark Bolden sets a folksy tone as he plays his guitar and shares the tale of the Ranch. He's backed up by the Chicken Pluckers Band, directed by Steven Dascoulias and given a down-home feel with fiddle and pedal steel guitar. Although the band sounds great, the music overpowers the singing at times, making it hard to distinguish some of the clever lyrics.
But we hear TV show host Melvin P. Thorpe (Lee Garrow) loud and clear when he tells his audience that "Texas Has A Whorehouse In It." With Thorpe leading the way, the sanctimonious, red-white-and-blue "Watchdogs" launch a crusade to close down the Chicken Ranch - unless they're run out of town by Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd first.
As the harassed sheriff, Michael Pulliam spits out Southern-tinged one-liners, threats and putdowns at a constant clip, punctuated liberally with curses. His "snortin' and a'cussin' " are hilarious, but they're not enough to save the Chicken Ranch, despite a longstanding affection for its charming owner.
The musical is fast-paced and enthralling. Racy scenes, like the corrupt Senator J.T. Wingwoah (Max Reid) getting caught with his pants around his ankles, are balanced with more sensitive moments, like the brassy Angel (Casey Murphy) telling her kid on the phone that she won't be home for Thanksgiving.
As expected, "The Aggie Song" is a showstopper - a rousing locker-room display of talented male dancing and Alden Caple's energetic choreography. Pumped up from their big football win, the Aggie Boys boast of their prowess on and off the field, promising to "put it right between the goal posts" at the Chicken Ranch. They celebrate with jumping jacks, backflips, pushups, stomps, slaps, whoops, even a brief towel-drop (blink and you might miss it!).
An unexpected highlight is "Doatsy Mae," a wistful interlude by Beth Garrow as the "plain as gravy" owner of the Texas Twinkle Cafe. It's an ode to all the Doatsy Maes of the world who wanted to be somebody and do something, but "never could."
Of course, the reality of prostitution is far from glamorous - still, Mona and her girls are a resilient bunch, and they won't let the closure of the Chicken Ranch keep them down for long. Murphy lets it rip with a fine "Hard Candy Christmas," featuring chicken-skin harmony as the girls descend the red-carpeted stairs for the last time.
The play raises some deeper questions of right and wrong, fear and hypocrisy. Powerful images are created, like that of Miss Mona strolling out and leaning on the railing as the angry mob below shakes their fists and chants "Shame!"
"I started out as a whore and worked my way up to outcast," Mona tells Sheriff Dodd matter-of-factly.
But for every serious moment, plenty more are just pure entertainment. The huge cast, in vibrant costumes by Caro Walker, is a wild array of Mona's girls, Watchdogs, Aggie Boys, Angelettes, patrons, politicians and reporters. Clever staging often brings the action into the aisles and makes effective use of freeze frames in scenes like The Raid.
There's a lot going on in "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" - and although none of it is "dirty," it's just risque enough to make it a whole lot of fun.