Sacred Heart University students recently welcomed famed lyricist and composer Carol Hall to a master class at the University’s Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts.
Hall, who composed the music and wrote the lyrics for the 1978 Broadway musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, shared her know-how with students who were going to perform the hit show soon after. She spoke about her experiences working on the show, as well as the meaning behind many songs and characters.
Hall walked into the theater to a round of applause and sat with Jerry Goehring, performing arts director. She thanked the students, revealing her barely-there southern accent. Hall then asked them to close their eyes as she read the first few lines of the show’s script. She asked what those lines revealed, eventually getting students to talk about the play’s pastoral and pleasant setting and its people.
“What really gets me about this is the simplicity,” said Hall, a Texas native. The story is about a well-kept, century-old brothel in rural Texas that gets into trouble when the local media start investigating it.
Sitting next to Hall in the front of the theater with lights dimmed, Goehring asked his guest questions about the music and the production. Hall said the play came to be with the help of two friends, Larry L. King and Peter Masterson, who co-authored the book on which the play was based. While King hated musicals, Hall said, she knew the story would make for a great Broadway show.
Between stories, Hall called upon student actors to talk about their parts in SHU’s production. Erin Dugan, a graduate student who portrayed Miss Mona, the madam, said she sees her character as a strong, independent woman, almost like a motherly figure, who wants to help the girls working for her. “She has strict rules, but also takes care of the girls,” Dugan said. Hall nodded and said she liked Dugan’s interpretation of the character.
As the class went on, Hall discussed her favorite songs in the musical and her disapproval of the 1982 movie adaptation that followed, starring Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds. “I don’t regret the movie, but I wish they hadn’t changed so much,” she said.
Afterward, Dugan called the class incredible and said Hall “really gave a lot of insight into the characters. It was great seeing she had a relationship and a true love for the show.” Dugan, who has performed in numerous productions during her time at SHU, said that while the musical takes on many deep issues, such as female empowerment, it’s also a fun show to perform.
Ali Roach, SHU’s assistant director of performing arts, said Hall’s visit was significant for the students. “It’s so relevant. The students have been rehearsing hours and hours of her music, so to meet her is very exciting,” Roach said.