29th October 2010Over-analysing the dramatic structure of a whimsical musical.
This post contains spoilers about the plot of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. That might not seem like a big deal but some people take musicals very seriously.
Last night Andrew C Ferguson and I went to see a mutual friend perform in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Although I hate gingham I do quite like musicals and indeed it was a fun and well-staged show with some great one-liners. Structurally however, the story is a disaster.
The first act is totally fine. Here's the key points:
- Two new girls come to work at Miss Mona’s cathouse, a “l’il ol’ bitty pissant country place.”
- Miss Mona is a shotgun-toting tough-but-fair dame with a heart of gold who cares for her girls and strives for a classy operation.
- A slimy crusading TV presenter called Melvin P. Thorpe stirs up locals and tries to get the place closed down.
- The sheriff, Ed Earl Dodd, who has always supported Miss Mona, boots Melvin out of town and is pictured on TV using foul language.
- The Governor gets involved.
- Melvin raids the whorehouse, catching both the local football team and a senator in the act.
So far so good. What we know is: Miss Mona and her girls are providing a fair service under decent conditions and are generally happy.
This is what we need from the concluding act:
- Miss Mona’s gets shut down.
- There are a couple of unhappy songs.
- A far greater danger threatens the town.
- The cathouse girls are the only people who can save it.
- They do so at great personal cost.
- The grateful townspeople see the error of their ways, accept the girls and Miss Mona’s reopens.
- Melvin tries to stir up more trouble and gets seriously booted out of town by its entire population.
- The lonely sheriff and Miss Mona get together.
- We close with a spectacular song and dance number called The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas.
- The End.
What instead we get is this:
- The Governor refuses to take a position on whether the cathouse should be closed.
- The sheriff opines that Miss Mona is a “good ol’ girl”.
- The Governor bows to public pressure and orders the closing of Miss Mona’s.
- The sheriff phones to warn Miss Mona he will be coming to shut her down.
- The girls pack up and sing a sad song about what they will do with their lives.
- Miss Mona, last to leave, looks around the place and sings a sad song.
- The End.
What? What a total bummer of a second act.
Yes there are some subtleties I have not captured like the fact that the waitress at the café fantasises about being a sexy creature herself or that the sheriff doesn’t remember their trip to Galveston the way Miss Mona does, but come on, we need more. Otherwise this is the plot:
- There is a good thing.
- Someone tries to spoil it.
- It gets spoiled.
- The End.
Not the emotional experience I want from my musicals. No matter how much fishnet and silk they feature.
* I am aware that the sex trade is in reality often exploitative and that most sex workers do not regularly stop what they are doing and break into a cheerful song.