‘Best Little Whorehouse’ premieres at Egyptian
July 10, 2009
Ali Bennett’s career at the Egyptian Theatre began when she was 10 years old. She played Flower No. 3 in a production of "Charlotte’s Web."
She went on to star in "Jesus Christ Superstar" and Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz." Her most recent performance on the Main Street stage, "Suessical: The Musical," was in 2005.
Bennett returned to the Egyptian Friday after nearly four years. She did so not as an actor but as the co-founder of a new theater company, Dark Horse. Based out of Salt Lake City, the upstart troupe boasts many performers who have appeared at the Egyptian.
The company, which officially began April 16, will stage "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" Saturday at 7:30 and return July 17-19 with evening shows and a Sunday matinee that begins at 1:30 p.m. The show is Dark Horse’s first.
Bennett, who is in charge of props for "Whorehouse," founded Dark Horse with Jon Copier (whose work at the Egyptian includes "The Full Monty" and "Cabaret"), Ginger Bess ("Jesus Christ Superstar") and Daniel Simons. Simons, who is directing "Whorehouse," has both taken the stage at the Egyptian in "Cabaret" and "White Christmas" and worked behind the scenes in "The Full Monty" and "Cabaret."
Part of filling the void has meant offering smaller, edgier productions that depart from the standard fare of musical theater, Simons said. Tickets for the show are $10, and Simons hopes the low prices will complement the off-beat subject of the show will attract patrons who don’t frequent the theater.
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Aptly titled, "Whorehouse" is about a fictional Texas brothel that takes on a television reporter who tries to get the establishment shut down. Originally a book by Larry L. King, the musical was inspired by true events. It premiered on Broadway in the 1970s and was adapted for the screen with Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds in the lead roles.
Dark Horse’s cast boasts more than 20 actors and has drawn help from more than 50 volunteers. The show has been in rehearsal for only three-and-a-half weeks and run-throughs at the Egyptian began just five days before opening day. Simons admits that "Whorehouse" is an ambitious first project, but the musical’s edgy subject, humor and rollicking music convinced him to direct it. "Whorehouse" hasn’t been staged by a professional theater company in Utah since 1986, Simons noted.
"It’s a rambunctious show with a lot of heart," he said. "And it seemed to be a good fit for us."
The idea of starting a production company took root more than 15 years ago, and the sour economy sparked the idea into reality. "Recently, there’s been a pretty big void in theatre, with a lot of stages going under," Simons said. "A lot of actors didn’t have work."
Dark Horse is young Simons, at 35, is the group’s oldest member but each member brings experience to their new posts, he said.
Bennett attended the Egyptian’s YouTheatre program as a teenager and ran the program for more than a year beginning in 2004. She remembers the Egyptian before renovation, when a spiral staircase wound down to tiny dressing rooms. The layout of the stage may have changed, but the intimacy of the theater remains. "I was so lucky to come to this town [as a child] and have this stage. It’s a really wonderful place and I’m glad we’re able to use it," Bennett said. "Really, there should be art on this stage."
Scooter Mastain, who is on the Egyptian’s board, plays a band leader in the show. Like Bennett, he matriculated through the YouTheatre program and remembers sharing the stage in "Charlotte Web." "I was Man No. 2," he laughed.
"I’ve grown up with the Egyptian Theatre," he continued. "It’s such a community hub."
Mastain called ‘Whorehouse’ a strong fit for the stage. "The show is a great choice," he said. "It’s got great music."