Audience expectations need to be adjusted for a show like The Great American Trailer Park Musical. The title lets patrons know what they are in for: The topic will be trailer trash—meaning the musical will feast on stereotypes, low comedy, and political incorrectness—and the music will not display Stephen Sondheim-ish urban sophistication—meaning that attendees should have a broad tolerance for country music.
The show opened off Broadway in 2005 to respectful, if somewhat condescending reviews. It’s now getting a local production at Theater Wit that cheerfully exploits the show’s virtues—its high spirits, unapologetic corny and often vulgar humor, and its opportunities to deliver a score with some very sharp lyrics. Amongst a great deal of redneck foolery is some outstanding singing by the entire ensemble.
Set in a northern Florida trailer park called Armadillo Acres, the plot, for want of a better term, has something to do with a set of loopy romances that include a stripper at a local club named Tippi, a young gun-toting hothead named Duke, a toll collector named Norbert, and his agoraphobic wife Jeannie, who has sequestered herself inside her trailer for 20 years, traumatized by the abduction of her baby. The remainder of the show’s personnel consists of three young women who serve as a kind of mock Greek chorus, commenting on the story and sometimes entering into the action. They are Betty, who operates the trailer park, the full-figured Lin, and a ditzy 17-year named Pickles, who is going through a hysterical pregnancy that turns out to be not so hysterical in a scene that redefines political incorrectness on the stage.
Say what you want about Betsy Kelso’s paper-thin and cliché-ridden book, the music and lyrics by David Nehls are first rate. Most of the songs are clever and funny with a rockabilly twang. The ballads are drenched in the whiney self-pity that make country music so endearing to so many people. And while the book is the show’s major liability, the author can still fire off zippy wisecracks like Jeannie’s complaint thrust at her husband’s ingratitude “You think those Jalapeno Pringles cover themselves in spray cheese?” Such dialogue snappers are complemented by Nehls lyrics on the order of “Just like the clothes from Wal-Mart, my love life’s falling apart.”
Now that you know what to expect, the show’s nonsense is saved by a superior cast directed by John Glover, who keeps the pace brisk and allows free reign to the show’s agreeable raunchiness. Under Glover’s guidance, Trailer Park wallows in its campy shtick without descending into a slew of inanity. He allows his cast’s vocal and comedic talents to carry the evening and carry it they do.
All seven performers have fine voices and each one has at least one star vocal moment. But most of the numbers are ensemble pieces, like the Achy-Breaky “Flushed Down the Pipes,” a bathroom cleaning ballad that becomes a metaphor for romantic misery. This is an intimate show but there are still successful attempts at big production numbers, as when most of the characters unite for “Storm’s A-Brewin’,” a number reminiscent of the Disco anthem “It’s Raining Men” that sets a high bar for rib-tickling sleaze.
The laudable cast consists of Christina Hall (Jeannie), Bri Schumacher (Tippi), Jennifer Wisegarver (Pickles), Danni Smith (Betty), Ashley Braxton (Lin), Jonathan Hickerson (Norbert), and Alex Grelle (Duke). They all maximize the giggling opportunities of their Hee Haw-type characters and they execute Tom Coppola’s zesty choreography with the proper energy and enthusiasm. Praise also goes to the excellent country music band of Allison Hendrix (keyboard), Dan Toot (guitar), Michael Sinclair (bass), and Phil Martin (drums).
Zachary Gibson’s set consists primarily of cutout facades of trailers decorated in primary colors, Angela Enos designed the deliberately brazen and grubby costumes, and both Jeffrey Lynn’s sound and Brandon Wardell’s lighting do their bit to capture the deliciously tacky spirit of the entire enterprise.
Obviously, Trailer Park is not the new My Fair Lady but I enjoyed it as much as the hit Pump Boys and Dinettes, another musical essay in cornpone Americana. The show isn’t interested in furthering the evolution of American Musical Theater, but hopefully this production will serve as a springboard to accelerate the careers of all seven performers. They deserve it.
photos by Joshua Albanese
The Great American Trailer Park Musical
Kokandy Productions at Theater Wit in Chicago
scheduled to end on August 26. 2012
for tickets, call 773 975 8150 or visit http://www.kokandyproductions.com
for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com