In 1990, as the final curtain came down on opening night at The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Marvin Zindler took to the stage and began twirling his baton.
"The audience went insane," remembers John Holly, the former executive producer of Theatre Under the Stars, who has returned to Houston to play the cameo role of the governor -- the same part he played 22 years ago.
The show hasn't been done in Houston since the early '90s, Holly says, and even though Zindler has passed on, Holly says the late newscaster always enjoyed the show and the character Melvin P. Thorpe modeled on himself and his investigation of prostitution in La Grange's Chicken Ranch.
Miss Mona (Michelle DeJean) operates a brothel in a rural area. Her boyfriend is Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd (Kevin Cooney, who also played the role on Broadway), who doesn't like it much when television reporter Melvin P. Thorpe (Michael Tapley) comes to town and starts asking pushy questions.
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When they first put on the show, Holly says, they were very aware of the language and what it might do to the image they were trying to build, that TUTS shows were family-friendly. They were worried about some of the swear words (in a show that has the name "whorehouse" in the title?), he says.
"We had to put a disclaimer in the paper in the advertising -- for mature audiences. Like you would do on film and TV. Because the sheriff, every other sentence there's a 'goddamn.' We also prided ourselves on presenting family entertainment." They didn't want grandparents and their grandchildren upset by the language.
Holly left TUTS in 1994 to go to Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. From there he moved to Phoenix, where he started a theater, and since then he has retired and lives in California, doing the occasional directing or producing job. Taking on acting again is out of the norm, but he didn't want to pass up the opportunity to reprise his role. "I'm working more than ever. Now I get to pick and choose what I want to do and when I want to do it."
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas runs June 5-17 at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby. For information, call 713-558-8887 or visit the theater's website.