Jacksonville University College of Fine Arts Review
A Dual Critics Review by Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom
The musical has an interesting history in Jacksonville. When the roadshow arrived in the early 1980s, the management of the then Civic Auditorium refused to display the correct title on the billboard; instead, the display read “Now playing, The Best Little Chicken Ranch in Texas.” Later in the decade, it was a big hit at the Alhambra Dinner Theatre, with fifty or more sold-out performances.
The musical was based on a real house of ill repute known as The Chicken Ranch, in La Grange, Texas, which was established in 1844 and operated for well over a century.
In the musical, Miss Mona Stangley, the owner, was portrayed by JU senior Victoria Miller, in a marvelous performance capturing the style and graciousness of a tough woman who was remarkably supportive of her employees. Miller put on a fashion show, appearing in multiple elegant costumes as she delivered Mona’s songs with believable poignancy.
Mona’s love interest for many years was local Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd, a well-liked local boy who cussed a lot. The role was played with gusto by JU senior Harrison Breault and we got to experience his excellent singing abilities in “Good Old Girl.”
The musical’s narrator, the Bandleader of a country group, is portrayed with lively assurance by Loic Adjevi, a freshman Vocal Performance major; this was his first stage production.
We expect to see many future performances by JU freshman Carlos Adorno, who was truly over the top as the dastardly TV reporter Melvin P. Thorpe belting out his “Watch Dog Theme” song.
Chelsea Diaz is another JU freshman we expect to see a lot of in the future. She played Jewel, Miss Mona’s dependable assistant, and can really belt out a song as she proved with “Twenty-Four Hours of Lovin’.”
Alec Hadden was the only previous Jacksonville University student in this production, who portrayed the singingest dancing and side-stepping governor in Texas history. Since graduating in 2014, Alec has been very active in several community theaters in roles in musicals and comedies. And if you have attended any recent professional sporting events, you may have heard him singing the American (or Canadian) national anthem.
You can’t run a business like The Chicken Ranch without beautiful girls, and this production had an abundance of them. Playing the ladies at Miss Mona’s were Carly Levy, Sarah Stepp, Savannah Elam, Kelly Wolfe, Michaela Wright, Shauna Clark, Shelby Mosely, Charly Adams, Sade Crosby, and Karina Castro,
One of the more serious songs was “Doastsy Mae,” sung beautifully by Charly Anne Roper as the waitress in a local restaurant.
The audience’s favorite song came at the end of the first act and featured Texas Aggie football players brought to Mona’s by Senator Wingwoah (Adam Keller) to celebrate their victory. Deborah Jordan, the play’s director, worked with the athletic department to cast football players from the JU Dolphins as Aggie team members. They whooped and danced and you have never seen so much beefcake on stage. The Aggie players were Joe Aloi, Kevin Turner, Jermaine Thompson, Seth Freeman, Dane Cordell III, Ryan Rhoden, Emon Smith, Jakob Dempsey and Fred Blaz.
Rounding out the cast in various roles were Cedric Mitchell, Daniel Rivera-Valladares, Michaela Dalton, Matthew Robertson, John Washington, and Shelby Mosely.
The band, tucked under the stage and led by Jay Ivey (also on Keyboard) played flawlessly and included Peter Mosely (Bass), John LeMaster (Pedal Steel Guitar), Chris Smith (Drums) and Brooks Clarke (Guitar).
Most of the action took place at Mona’s establishment, a three-story affair, with working girls using the door on the top floor for entrances and exits. The set was designed by Ben Wilson, who was assisted by Student Scenery Designer Austin Kelm.
Curtis J. Williams is a well known Choreographer/Costume Designer/Director whose talents are in demand from many theatres. What he accomplished in this show was amazing. His work included designing over 200 costumes, choreographing the dancing ladies, and additionally teaching dancing to a dozen or so muscular football players. A well-deserved Bravo! goes to Mr. Williams.
Additional Production Crew included: Austin Kelm (Lighting Designer), Charly Adams (Assistant Choreographer/Dance Captain), Brandon Lettow (Sound Designer/Technical Director), Ashley Jones (Stage Manager), Madison Snider (Assistant Stage Manager), Emily Pate (Assistant Director), Mickey Leger (Hair and Wig Master), Zoe Rosas (Wardrobe Crew Chief), assisted by Sarah Stepp and Karina Castro-Gonzalez (Wardrobe Crew)
Director Deborah Jordan had appeared in a minor role in this show in Texas some years ago, and it has remained one of her favorites. Her knowledge and talented direction brought the story to vibrant life on JU’s stage.