Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

BWW Reviews: THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK MUSICAL at Gaslight Theatre

Let's face it: We all know people in our own lives who mirror pretty closely the denizens of the Armadillo Acres trailer park - the setting for The Great American Trailer Park Musical. Sure, maybe it's just from standing behind them at the Wal-Mart or trying to avoid their gaze when they're ordering "them there fajitas" at Chez Mexicano or, perhaps, you're only a generation or two away from the gap-toothed, slack-jawed yokels yourself. But we know 'em here in Tennessee. Hell, they're probably knocking at the door right now, wanting directions to the mall.

Now, thanks to a spirited, thoroughly likable, production of the show - which features music and lyrics by David Nehls and a book by Betsy Kelso - at The Gaslight Theatre at Dickson's The Renaissance Center, the adventures of the agoraphobic Jeanie (who's been confined to her mobile home for more than 20 years - since her baby boy was kidnapped) and her toll collector husband Norbert (a dim-witted good ol' boy) are brought to life for new audiences certain to delight in all the redneck shenanigans that unfold as the runaway stripper Pippi -- headed cross-country from OKC (that's Oklahoma City for you neophytes), fleeing from her Magic Marker-sniffing boyfriend Duke - settles into her own trailer and all hell breaks loose. But thanks to the Greek chorus of Betty (the trailer park's well-meaning, if murderous, manager), Linoleum ("Lin" for short; she is so-named because her mama gave birth to her on the kitchen floor) and Pickles (that's not her real name; she's called that because she's always pregnant. Well, that's not exactly true either: Pickles has a lot of hysterical pregnancies, it seems.)

Obviously, this ain't your grandma's musical comedy. The Great American Trailer Park Musical, however, features some terrific, very hummable and memorable, songs (which, let's face it, every musical must have if it's to be successful) and that wacky band of characters who call Armadillo Acres home. And what a home it is: The production's set design (which first saw the light of day at Memphis' Playhouse on the Square) is gorgeously appointed, with a big ol' billboard welcoming you to Armadillo Acres and featuring a motley collection of mobile homes, trailers and caravans to provide the perfect backdrop for the play's action. Nathan Ray's outstanding lighting design helps to set the tone for the hilarity that ensues throughout the show.

Directed and choreographed by Bryan J. Wlas, the action moves quickly from one raucous moment to the next, with enough heartfelt moments and reality show confessionals to make audiences feel at home, tapping their toes and laughing with gusto at the onstage antics of a terrific ensemble of actors.

Jama Bowen is perfectly cast as the agoraphobic Jeannie, delivering her lines with conviction in an accent that's recalls beer and pork rinds while singing her numbers with confidence. Her "Flushed Down the Pipes" and "Panic" are highlights of the musical program (as usual, Nathan W. Brown's musical direction is right on-target). Channeling his inner redneck, Alan Lee provides the perfect foil to Bowen as Jeanie's straying husband Norbert, who strays from the straight and narrow when the comely Pippi takes up residence at Armadillo Acres. Together, Bowen and Lee make for a pretty convincing married couple whose union is on the rocks: Hell, she ain't been outta that trailer in 20 years and not even tickets to the Ice Capades can convince her to emerge from her self-imposed imprisonment! And everyone knows that the only true entertainment takes place on ice - particularly in hot and humid Florida.

The usually lovely and refined Jenny Norris-Light channels her inner slut (or "suh-lut," if you're working in the trailer park vernacular) to bring Pippi to life with vigor! She fearless and funny, loud-mouthed and brash in her portrayal, but she's also capable of tugging at your heartstrings with the simplest of looks or gestures. Her performance of "The Buck Stops Here" (Pippi's stripping at The Litterbox in Stark, Florida) is hilariously over-the-top, but innocent enough that audiences won't be coughing up their roast beef and peach cobbler from the buffet at the Gaslight TheatrE. Norris-Light is also given the opportunity to spout some of the show's funniest lines, like my personal favorite: "Stripping is like an all-you-can-eat waffle bar...you just have to know when to walk away." Truer words were never spoken, my friends. Never.

As "the girls," director/choreographer Wlas has assembled a trio of wonderfully charming and tremendously versatile women to guide us on our journey through Armadillo Acres and to make us feel at home in The Great American Trailer Park Musical. Paula Makar is an appealing neighborhood busybody, given her starmaking turn in the number "The Great American TV Show" that she makes the most of (interestingly, in an earlier production of the show at Street Theatre Company a coupla years ago, Bowen played Betty) with her tongue-in-cheek performance. Margie Mills, as Lin, has an absolutely gorgeous voice, full of color and as expressive as all get out, and she has a wry sense of humor that allows Lin to say the naughtiest lines with charm and grace. And Emma Jordan, making her final stage appearance before leaving for college and the beginning of what is certain to be a bright future in the theater, plays Pickles with an amazingly zestful abandon, displaying her ample range throughout the show. Along with Bowen, Lee and Norris-Light, the girls open the show with the rousing "This Side of the Tracks," while bringing Act One to a close with "Storm's A-Brewin'" (which is staged as a 1970s disco inferno of outrageous colors and fashion, thanks to the splendid efforts of costume designer Rachel Gallup).

Chris Egging completes the cast with his wild-eyed, but focused, performance of Duke, Pippi's ex-boyfriend who pursues her all the way from the OKC to Stark, sniffing Magic Markers and Sharpies along the way to fuel his pursuit. However, as Pippi so succinctly puts it: "Sniffing is just a gateway to huffing." So you know there's more to Duke's story than meets the eyes (and you'll love the plot's ultimate payoff). Egging's "Road Kill," performed with backup by "the girls," is the great Act Two opening.

Granted, The Great American Trailer Park Musical will never rank up there with the greatest of musical theater hits, but it is nonetheless great fun performed by a terrific cast brought together by the vision of the Wlas, aided and abetted by Brown and the other two members of his musical combo (Tiger Fitzhugh on guitar and Derrick McCullough on drums).

The Great American Trailer Park Musical. Music and lyrics by David Nehls. Book by Betsy Kelso. Directed and choreographed by Bryan J. Wlas. Music direction by Nathan W. Brown. Presented by The Gaslight Theater at the Renaissance Center, Dickson. For reservations, call (615) 740-5600. For further details, visit the company website at www.rcenter.org. 

Pictured (left to right): Jama Bowen, Chris Egging, Jenny Norris-Light, Margie Mills, Alan Lee, Emma Jordan and Paula Makar.


Featured on Stage Door

Shoutouts, Classes, and More from Your Favorite Broadway Stars

Related Articles View More Nashville Stories

From This Author Jeffrey Ellis