The Great American Trailer Park Musical
If you were in the Times Square area anytime from 8 o'clock to 10 on Tuesday night and were frightened by continual explosive sounds followed by shrieks and screams, you needn't worry. It was just the audience at the first performance of The Great American Trailer Park Musical, all of them laughing hard enough to make a swig of Wild Turkey come out their noses.
A wildly funny and tart-tongued book, a clever score with just the right amount of twang and an exceptional cast, all of whom seem to be having a blast in this colorful and frisky production that seems achin' for an Off-Broadway run add up to two hours of rowdy, fast-paced musical comedy hog heaven. (Whatever the hell hog heaven is... I'm a city boy.)
David Nehls (score) and Betsy Kelso (book and direction) have set their tuneful domestic melodrama in a North Florida trailer park, where having your baby kidnapped isn't half as tragic as getting a bad perm. Both horrors have befallen Jeannie (Carter Calvert), who's developed a severe case of agoraphobia and finds comfort spending her days lounging on the couch watching the guests on Oprah, Rickie and Montel prove that there are worse lives than hers. Her husband Norbert (Dan Sharkey), frustrated with having a wife who won't go further outside than as far as she can while keeping one hand on the door knob, has taken to spending his nights at the local strip club, where he becomes smitten with exotic dancer Pippi (Jenn Colella) who, rather conveniently, has just moved into the trailer across the yard.
Pippi and Norbert discover a common bond when she vents out frustration about her profession. "Do you have any idea what it's like", she complains, "to make your living by collecting dollar bill after dollar bill after dollar bill?"
"Yes", he replies, "I'm a toll collector."
But Pippi has a past, and her Oklahoma City ex-boyfriend Duke, who's addicted to sniffing magic marker fumes ("Happiness is buying your drugs at K-Mart"), is determined to seek her out and win her back.
What makes the silliness so fun is that the authors never look down on the characters or the trailer park lifestyle. They may be uneducated and a bit lazy at times, but they're generally sincere loveable people.
This is the kind of show where every member of the cast has an opportunity to give a star performance, and that's exactly what we get from all seven of 'em. Robin Baxter, Amanda Ryan Paige and Marya Grandy are positively outstanding as a singing trio of trailer park neighbors who narrate the proceedings. Whether called on to sound like The Dixie Chicks, The Dixie Cups, The Bee Gees or The Andrews Sisters, their harmonies are tight, fluid and completely engaging. Oh, and they're funny too, playing all the extra characters needed from strippers to strip club customers to food court employees to hotel maids. As the dim-witted one of the trio, Paige is a first-order clown with an endearingly flexible face. Grandy throws out one-liners with Johnny Carson-like precision ("My name's Lin. My real name's linoleum 'cause my mother gave birth to me on the kitchen floor.") and Baxter has that warm, welcoming earth-mother quality with an extra shot of bawdiness.
Carter Calvert is sweet as a Jello Pudding Pop as the shut in wife, singing her country blues in lusciously husky tones. Also in terrific voice is Jenn Colella as the world-weary dancer who breaks out into some hilariously broad moments in the evening's fantasy sequences. (Yes, this is a musical with fantasy sequences.) Dan Sharky's humble and masculine Norbert is a cubic zirconium in the rough, with a richly romantic baritone, as opposed to the riotously rapid-fire quirkiness of Geoffrey Scheer as Duke, looking and sounding straight out of Cops.
Nehls' score, combining country blues, boogie woogie, disco and a few other styles I may have missed, shines brightest when providing fodder for some of Kelso's most imaginative staging. A song about road kill has Duke "driving" a converted shopping cart across the interstate with the narrating trio tossing stuffed animals in his path. A trip to a cheap motel that hasn't been refurbished since 1979 inspires a disco fantasy. But even the more serious moments are given a comic edge. A lovely ballad called "She's Perfection" sung by Norbert and Duke generates laughs because they don't know they're singing about the same woman. Jeannie's songs about her troubled marriage are loaded with enough product placements in the lyrics to fund a commercial production. But although the references to press-on nails and spray-on cheese are funny, they also ring true because such items are a part of these characters' everyday lives.
Joseph J. Egan's versatile set, primarily depicting the trailer park, is appropriately loaded with tacky pink and purple pastels, highlighted by a shade of yellow I never want to see again for the rest of my life. His costume design is full of fun creations that are over the top, but not so far over that you wouldn't see some tastefully-challenged soul wearing them. Greg Baccarini's wigs are, quite simply, a hoot.
The Great American Trailer Park Musical is a fine example of mindless entertainment that doesn't sacrifice good writing and an imaginative production. Some may call it a guilty pleasure, but if lovin' The Great American Trailer Park Musical is bad, I don't wanna be good.