BWW Reviews: Stages Rep's GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK CHRISTMAS MUSICAL Is A Heart-Warming Hoot

David Nehls and Betsy Kelso's 2005 Off-Broadway hit show THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK MUSICAL has been a favorite of theatre patrons and companies ever since it first premiered. This holiday season the duo's brand new madcap musical comedy THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK CHRISTMAS MUSICAL is making its World Premiere at Stages Repertory Theatre in Houston. Serving as a companion to the original show and not a direct sequel, the new musical serves up innumerous laughs to audiences both familiar and unfamiliar with the original romp.

Being a fan of the original musical, I knew what I was getting myself into with this production. Yet, the most pleasant surprise was Betsy Kelso's heartwarming and riotously hilarious book. Compared to the original show, THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK CHRISTMAS MUSICAL's book is tighter and displays more maturity in the writing craft while still delivering clever one-liners, puns, and zingers that leave the audience absolutely breathless with hearty laughter. All of the requisite bad language is present and the heart of the plot is lively and appealing. From beginning to end, this Christmas-themed gambol just seems to work better than the original.

Music and lyrics by David Nehls deliver in everyway that the audience wants them to. The spunky melodies are catchy and the lyrics so gut busting that you'll need to see the show more than once to catch all the jokes because of how much you'll be laughing. Seeing "Christmas in My Mobile Home," originally written and recorded for Broadway's Greatest Gifts: Carols for the Cure, Volume 7, come to life on stage was a bona fide, fun holiday treat. Numbers like "My Christmas Tin Toy Boy" and "Black on Blue on Christmas Eve" pull on our heartstrings while making us laugh. Numbers like "Baby, I'll Be Your Santa Claus" leave the audience in stitches with their unadulterated kitsch charm. Lastly, Act I's finale, "...It's Christmas," is the song I can't shake. I only wish a recording of it existed so I could listen to it again and again as it would make the perfect holiday mantra for many zany Christmases.

Direction by Kenn McLaughlin and Choreography by Besty Kelso keeps the production light and sweet, ensuring that the somewhat darkly comic material never reads as anything less than hysterical. Furthermore, casting for the show couldn't be more perfect. Each actress and actor has fully embodied their characters, crafting larger than life personas that the audience simply adores for the entirety of the performance.

Portraying the three returning characters, Ivy Castle's bubbly Pickles, Carolyn Johnson's outrageous Lin, and Susan Koozin's brash Betty slay the audience with incredible comedic timing as they deliver each line with pizzazz and radiance. As a trio the three work together perfectly, always sharing the spotlight and not outdoing one another. Additionally, each woman holds the stage on her own in solo moments, giving the audience multiple moments to let loose and guffaw with abandon.

Playing into stereotypic holiday tropes, Chelsea Ryan McCurdy beguiles audiences with her Scrooge and Grinch like Darlene Seward. The grumpy and easily agitated character proudly exclaims that the only C word that offends her is Christmas; however, it is her fascinating and surprising change of heart that makes the show's holiday magic unique and unforgettable.

Josh Morrison plays the virile and chauvinist Jackson "Jackie" Beaudreau to perfection. His audacious antics are as hilarious as his buttered pancake belt buckle. On the other hand, Corby Sullivan's unassuming romantic lead, Rufus Jeter, leaves the audience giddy with uncontrollable giggles. With an undeniable Southern charisma, he is simplistic and protective of the ladies in Armadillo Acres.

Costume Design by Nara Lesser just destroyed me. Once I realized that Susan Koozin's Betty's festive holiday shirt featured hunky, ripped cartoons of men in Christmas attire, I couldn't stop rolling with laughter. The ludicrous print, which I found out is titled "Hurry Down the Chimney Guys," was pristinely laughable and trashy, perfectly befitting the ideas that the words "trailer park" conjure. Moreover, the costuming for the waitresses at Stacks, the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Recent Past, and Christmas Present, the knife-toting women at the mall, and the leather clad motorcycle lover all were immaculately hilarious. Simply put, Nara Lesser's designs are just as witty as they are tongue-in-cheek.

Scenic Design by Jodi Bobrovsky is fun and appropriately atmospheric, filling Stage's Arena Stage with cheap and tacky holiday opulence. Yezminne Zepeda's Sound Design mixes dialogue, music, lyrics, and sound effects well. You won't hear everything when you see the show, but that's because you'll laugh over lines and lyrics. Finally, Lighting Design by Michael Clark incorporates red and green as much as possible, keeping the production washed in festive lighting.

THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK CHRISTMAS MUSICAL is a frivolous holiday confection that expertly mixes the trashy with the splashy to create a story that is cute, charming, and an absolute riot. Now, I know what you're thinking. Who in their right mind would see a Christmas show before Thanksgiving? Well, I hate to be too blunt and crass, but in the words of our favorite trailer park denizens, "F**k it, it's Christmas!"

Running Time: Approximate 2 hours with one 15 minute intermission.

The World Premiere of THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK CHRISTMAS MUSICAL, produced by Stages Repertory Theatre, plays the Arena Stage at Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway Suite 101, Houston, 77019 now through December 29, 2013. Performances are Wednesdays and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Please note that the show is intended form mature audiences due to content and language. For more information and tickets, please visit http://stagestheatre.com or call (713) 527-0123.

Photos by Bruce Bennett. Courtesy of Stages Repertory Theatre.




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