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BWW Reviews: Standing Room Only Productions' THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK MUSICAL Sizzles With Heart and Hilarity

Houston audiences adore Betsy Kelso and David Nehls' THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK MUSICAL. The raucous musical originally opened Off-Broadway in September 2005. Stages Repertory Theatre initially brought the musical to Houston in a production that ran from July 12, 2006 to March 31, 2007. Due to popular demand, they brought the show back from June 1 to September 4, 2011. Now, Standing Room Only Productions is presenting their take on the popular musical, ensuring that Houston's summer theatre season sizzles with witty, boisterous entertainment.

Betsy Kelso's Book and David Nehls' Music and Lyrics resonate with an unexpected heart. Through their eyes, the audience is invited into the Armadillo Acres, a trailer park in Starke, Florida, and offered glimpses into the life and natural environment of characters who would be perfectly at home on the stage of The Jerry Spring Show or even The Maury Show. The end product is an irreverent musical romp that lampoons the tropes of musical theatre while lovingly skewering a facet of American society.

Direction by Sam Martinez guarantees hat every joke lands and earns guffaws of laughter. It is obvious that his cast is having a blast with the characters and material. Likewise, he has coached them to portray larger-than-life personas that induce riotous peals of laughter while touching our hearts. In addition to the witty dialogue, he also incorporates sight gags that earn everything from smirks to hearty laughs.

Choreography by Liz Tinder is zealous and cute, making the song and dance numbers all the more enjoyable. She keeps the tone light, using a limited dance vocabulary adequately and believably reflects the skills of the characters created for this production. No step is too complex, making each movement seem organic.

Music Direction by William Michael Luyties is solid. He keeps the band together and playing with crisp and infectious energy. He has guided the cast through the musical numbers with satisfying precision and skill. A majority of the chords created with the band and the voices of the cast are rich and full, especially when Yissell Carroll, Chelsea Curto, and Ronna Mansfield are harmonizing. The weakest voice in the cast is Tom Stell's, so his part sometimes gets lost in the chords and moments that require the cast to sing over one another.

Maredith Zaritski is remarkable as the sordid Pippi. When Holly Grice suffered a back injury, Maredith Zaritski stepped into the role and learned the part in four days. She creates a woman that is seductively sultry but seems to always run from her problems, which creates tensions when her Oklahoma City problems catch up to her and threaten to come face to face with her Starke problems. Maredith Zaritski's powerful and rich alto voice is adroitly put to impressive use on "The Buck Stops Here," "But He's Mine/It's Never Easy," and "Finale."

As Jeannie, Chelsea Lerner is the woman the audience can't help but root for. She crafts a sweet and kind woman whose agoraphobia has been brought on by the cruelty of the world. The audience can't help but be completely mesmerized by her stirring and touching performance, as she skillfully traverses an arc about overcoming life's adversities. Her Jeannie is definitely the show's most sympathetic and lovable character. Chelsea Lerner's sumptuous soprano sparkles on numbers like "Owner of My Heart" and "But He's Mine/It's Never Easy." On numbers like, "Panic," where she unleashes her controlled but strong belt, she is simply divine.

Tom Stell is delightfully charismatic as Norbert, the washed-up all-American jock turned Florida Toll Road Collector. The mistakes his character make create one of the show's primary conflicts. Despite this, Tom Stell manages to charm the audience with his docile rendition of Norbert. Moreover, he spends a majority of the score talk-singing or talking rhythmically during the songs, which cleverly fits the character he portrays.

Ryan Patrick Smith flawlessly commits to Duke, a character that is so absurd and zany that I am astonished he didn't crack himself up during the performance. As he manically huffs markers almost every time he is on stage, he has the audience rolling in the aisles with genuine and sincere laughter. When given the opportunity to sing, which isn't often in the score, his vocals are bright and clear.

Serving as a Greek chorus, individual characters, and even narrators Yissell Carroll, Chelsea Curto, and Ronna Mansfield do impeccable jobs as Betty, Linoleum, and Pickles. As Betty, Yissell Carroll, with a great soulful vocal instrument, has deft comedic timing and amazing control of her pristinely hilarious facial expressions. Chelsea Curto's Linoleum is brash, bold, and wonderfully sung. With Pickles, Ronna Mansfield crafts a spunky dumb blonde that has a powerhouse voice.

Set Design by Debra Schultz is clever and effectively uses the space to fantastically recreate a trailer park on the small stage. From the concrete colored floor to the four trailers, everything looks spot-on. Furthermore, one of the trailers is on a rolling cart and allows scenes to also occur inside the living room of Jeannie and Norbert as well.

Light Design by Josh Baker is flashy and colorful. During musical numbers, he gives the show a concert like feel by using swathes of vivid color that keep the tone spirited and light. The cyclorama behind the trailers is often used to heighten the tone by being washed in blithe blues, popping pinks, and radical reds.

Costume Design by Kathleen Zaritzski, with consultation by Deborah Blake, is superb in a rollickingly sidesplitting way. I can only imagine how fun it was visiting resale shops and neglected closets to search for some of the pieces. Likewise, the pieces that were hand created must have interesting stories about the search for the patterns and designs.

Sound Design by David Anderson expertly mixes and balances the music of the band and the sung lyrics. As previously noted, other than a few notes that got lost when the cast sang on top of each other, everything was perfectly heard.

As a fan of the Original Cast Recording, I had some idea of what to expect with THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK MUSICAL. However, I missed both of its celebrated runs at Stages Repertory Theatre. I was pleasantly surprised by how heartfelt and endearing the show was while causing the audience to mirthfully roll with enthusiastic laughter at its pervasively glorious and tremendously funny moments.

Standing Room Only Productions' production of THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK MUSICAL runs through July 27, 2013 at Obsidian Art Space at 3522 White Oak, Houston. For more information and tickets please visit http://sro-productions.com, http://obsidianartspace.org, or call (713) 300 - 2358.

Photos courtesy of Standing Room Only Productions.


Promotional Image for Standing Room Only Productions' THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK MUSICAL.


Tom Stell as Norbert and Chelsea Lerner as Jeannie.


Maredith Zaritski as Pippi and Tom Stell as Norbert.


Maredith Zaritski as Pippi and Tom Stell as Norbert.


Ronna Mansfield as Pickles, Chelsea Curto as Linoleum, and Yissell Carroll as Betty.


Ronna Mansfield as Pickles and Yissell Carroll as Betty.


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