Frederick's Best Little Whorehouse - Volume One
Nope, I'm not regurgitating the Black Book controversy. This is not an article about the upcoming elections across the state, either. Nor is it about the Frederick city contest which is underway.
This is the first in a short series I thought I'd write about my involvement in the Fredericktown Players (FTP) upcoming summer musical "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas."
Regular readers of The Tentacle know by now that community theater is a hobby, and that I've performed with the Brunswick Community Theater in approximately a dozen shows. I've been onstage at the Brunswick City Park Building, the Oatlands Plantation Carriage House Theater outside Leesburg, VA, and the Old Opera House in Charles Town, WV.
I've done romantic comedy, murder mysteries, and straight slapstick comedy. The one thing I have studiously avoided is musical theater, lacking confidence in my vocal ability.
Back during my tenure as the chief operations officer for the City of Frederick, Mayor Jim Grimes asked me to look into the controversy surrounding the Weinberg board and the theater staff.
Later, as a county commissioner, I served as the county liaison to the Weinberg board.
What I found was something familiar to all professional performing arts venues that also host a community theater group. Competition for time almost always favors the paying acts, while the community groups use the space for free. Theater staff, worried about showing a positive cash flow, isn't really excited about giving up valuable stage time.
In defense of Michael Stup and the current Weinberg staff, they do a nice job of balancing the need to generate revenue with facility access by community groups.
As an amateur actor, I spent many hours wandering around backstage and below the stage (where the dressing rooms are located) at the Weinberg. I often wondered what it would be like to perform in that wonderful space.
About a month and a half ago, a friend and FTP board member asked if I would consider taking on a "walk-on" role in their summer musical. It turns out that the friend, the very talented Lois Jarman, was serving as the producer for this show.
Lois described a scenario whereby I might be considered for a minor role, just a few lines of dialogue. She also mentioned that she was approaching my friend Blaine Young (talk radio superstar, former alderman, and notable Black Book entry) about a similar role.
For those not familiar with the show, Larry L. King and Peter Masterson have written an incredibly funny and poignant story of life in a small Texas town, whose claim to fame is the Chicken Ranch, a house of ill repute and Texas' least kept secret.
The music and lyrics, beautifully penned by Carol Hall, tell a very different story than the Dolly Parton/Burt Reynolds star vehicle motion picture from the 1980s.
FTP has a reputation for producing wonderful, professional-quality shows. Cast, sets, lights, and costumes that rival big city performances are routine to FTP. The FTP board has done as much to expose the theater to Fredericktonian's as any other local theater company.
So, it was with a little trepidation that I ventured to the FTP studio on Patrick Street (part of the old McHenry's Auto Parts warehouse) for my audition.
Auditions vary by director, but this one started off pretty routinely. Director Lee Hebb asked the assembled prospective cast members to team up to read from the script, alternating parts and people.
Two nights later, Amy Thoma, the stage manager, called and asked if I could attend a call back audition.
Call backs mean that either the director has seen something they like in an earlier audition performance, or hasn't seen enough to be able to cast the show. In this case, I think it may have been a little of both.
I returned and did more readings from the script. The bump in the road occurred when Lee asked me to sing. "Sing," I asked in a dumbfounded tone. He laughed and suggested I try Happy Birthday. Okay, I gave it a try, assuming that everyone had to do this.
Following my a cappella Happy Birthday, Lee thanked me for coming and granted me my freedom from further embarrassment. I was hopeful that my readings more than compensated for my singing. A few days later, Amy called to offer me a role.
There are some great male characters in the show. Melvin P. Thorpe, the self-indulgent watchdog of Texas morality, is a great role full of energy. The dim-bulb governor of Texas sings one of the show's great songs, "Sidestep," while carefully avoiding reporter's questions.
The part I was offered was Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd, the quick-tempered, foul-mouthed local police officer who presides over the town of Gilbert, Texas. Sheriff Dodd accommodates the Chicken Ranch, based at least in part on an ongoing relationship with the Madam, Miss Mona Stangely.
After accepting the part, I ordered a copy of the Broadway cast recording. Lesson - Listen to the cast recording BEFORE you accept the role!
Gary Sandy (from TV's WKRP) played Ed Earl, and had a vocal solo! Not just a solo, but a lovely little love song called "Good Old Girl." I immediately started re-thinking this commitment.
At the first rehearsal, we got our songbooks. Musical notes might as well be Chinese characters to me, so that didn't help much. At the same time, Lee told me I would also handle the duties of the Narrator, who opens the show by telling the Chicken Ranch story in both word and song. Uh oh, the singing thing again!
The only saving grace is Music Director Ann Raugh. She has patiently led me through this experience like a parent teaching a kid to ride a two-wheeler; all of this while she was working on the Deep Impact project, aiming a probe at a comet. Talk about multi-tasking!
We have been rehearsing every Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday night since mid-June. I was just blown away by the level of talent shown by this cast, and similarly amazed at their work ethic.
Choreographer Tiffany Jarman has created some wonderful dance numbers, and she is extracting great performances from all of our talented dancers. The silver lining in this cloud has been that at least I don't have to dance!
I haven't forgotten about Blaine Young. Blaine has been cast as Senator J. T. Wingwoah, Texas Aggie alum and frequent Chicken Ranch customer. In addition to some great acting skills (Blaine, I didn't know you had it in ya '), Blaine shows a great sense of self-deprecating humor by taking this role.
I'll write two more entries about the show, one during tech week, the week before opening night, and one during the week of performances. Then I'll talk to you more about this incredibly talented cast and crew.
Performances are scheduled at the Weinberg Center for July 22, 23, 29, 30 (all at 8:00 P.M.), and a matinee on the 31st at 2:00 P.M.
For those of you interested in purchasing advanced tickets, you can call the Weinberg box office at (301) 228-2828, or visit the Weinberg Center Online box office at www.weinbergcenter.org . Once there, click on Get Tickets, and hit the Buy Tickets On Line button.