SWOYERSVILLE — Ask Zachary Sessock what he has against the Chicken Ranch, and the local actor answers in character as investigative journalist Melvin P. Thorpe.
“I know there’s somethin’ goin’ on,” he said, launching into a Southern drawl. “It ain’t right, it ain’t Christian, and it needs to stop. It’s my civic duty to point out what needs to be done. It has to be shut down, and shut down today.”
Sessock sounded vehement, and when he took the stage during a recent rehearsal for “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” at the Music Box Dinner Playhouse, his fervor reached even greater heights.
After telling his audience about a recent success — getting a candy company to agree to put the right number of peanuts in its Peanut Delight bar — Melvin announced his next target would be something bigger.
“Tell us, watch dog, tell us,” his back-up singers chanted, building the suspense.
How could he say it delicately?
His next crusade would be against “a house of ill repute.”
“God forgive me,” he wailed. But he had to spell it out: “Texas has a whorehouse in it.”
Other characters in the Tony Award-winning musical, which opens on Saturday for a three-week run at the Music Box, have a sunnier view of the Chicken Ranch and its proprietor, Miss Mona.
“Miss Mona gives young ladies a place to live,” said Nikolas Dyanick, who recently returned to the Wyoming Valley from Philadelphia and plays the narrator.
“There’s nothin’ dirty goin’ on,” Dyanick said, quoting the lyrics of a song.
If you watch two young characters approach Miss Mona and indicate they want to be taken under her wing, it almost seems as if “Angel” and “Shy” are trying to enroll in a sort of finishing school. No tattoos, no cussing, no chewing gum — Miss Mona has so many rules.
Is she trying to mold them into ladies? Or ladies of the evening? Could it be both?
“Miss Mona has a good heart,” said Kalen Churcher, of Plymouth, who plays the woman in charge. “She really loves her ‘girls,’ and her place has always been just a part of the community.”
Whether the Chicken Ranch remains part of the community remains to be seen. Melvin the watch-dog reporter is determined to close it down, but sheriff Ed Earl Dodd probably won’t want to help him. Neither will the good ol’ boy governor who, as portrayer Walter Mitchell, of Bear Creek Village, describes him, “likes to talk and talk and never really says anything.”
Far from heavy drama, Mitchell said, the show is “a pleasant piece of fluff. Not only do actors need one of these every once in while, to sort of exhale, but audiences need something light and enjoyable to help them escape hurricanes and tornadoes and stormy politics.”
So from Saturday through Oct. 1, audiences can forget Harvey, Irma and the world stage for a while and simply concentrate on a smaller one, where a lot of dancing and singing will be going on.
“I’ve been very blessed with a talented cast,” first-time director Ben Dugas, of Pittston, said during a recent rehearsal just as Ashlee Danko, of Forty Fort, launched into a full-throated torch song called “24 Hours of Lovin.’”
Later in the show, Danko, who plays Jewel, the Chicken Ranch housekeeper, and Churcher, as Miss Mona will share a duet both performers especially enjoy.
“It’s a very powerful song by two women,” Churcher said.
“It’s about not taking any crap,” Danko said.