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BWW Review: THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK MUSICAL at Desert Rose Playhouse

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A musical farce

BWW Review: THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK MUSICAL at Desert Rose Playhouse

The Desert Rose Playhouse production of THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK MUSICAL is currently running in the company's new location in Palm Springs. The show features fabulous performances and design, and terrific direction by Robbie Wayne. Combined with David Nehls' clever lyrics and tuneful music (reminiscent of GREASE), audiences are sure to have a good time.

Betsy Kelso's book is the weak link, although it does contain both some funny and poignant moments. The story, which takes place in rural Florida's Armadillo Acres trailer park, centers around agoraphobic housewife Jeannie (the always superb Christine Tringali-Nunes) and her toll collector husband, Norbert (the equally terrific Michael Pacas). Norbert and Jeannie have lived in town all their lives and are about to celebrate their twentieth wedding anniversary. Jeannie is determined to venture out of the trailer so that she and Norbert can celebrate their anniversary with a night on the town, but so far, she hasn't gotten past the front steps. Norbert, meanwhile, blunders into an affair with a newly arrived exotic dancer, Pippi (talented newcomer Emily Rose Unnasch), although he very much adores his wife. Pippi has troubles of her own - she is hiding out from her violent ex-boyfriend, Duke (Cameron Keys, in a comical performance).

BWW Review: THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK MUSICAL at Desert Rose Playhouse
(L-R, top row): Michael Pacas and Christine Tringali-Nunes
(L-R, bottom row): Ben Reece, Robbie Wayne, Anthony Nannini

The other characters, Lin, Betty, and Pickles, three women played hilariously by men (Ben Reece, Robbie Wayne, and Anthony Nannini, respectively), serve as members of an individualized Greek chorus, who narrate the story through words and song. They don't bother to try to disguise their male voices, and instead, sing their tenor and baritone parts with gusto. Mr. Nannini would look like a beautiful ingenue if he didn't wear a heavy five o'clock shadow along with his feminine clothes. The drag performances, especially the men's outrageous wigs and costumes, are the only aspect of the Desert Rose production that seem specifically oriented towards a gay crowd; the risque humor is heterosexual in nature.

BWW Review: THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK MUSICAL at Desert Rose Playhouse
Robbie Wayne as a nightmare talk-show host.

For a show with a plot that makes fun of stereotypical foibles of Southern trailer park residents, as well as the park's location near the state prison that holds Florida's death chamber, the story is surprisingly sweet, and even contains some pathos. Michael Pacas and Christine Tringali-Nunes, two deservedly respected Coachella Valley performers, resist the twin temptations to over-emote or mug their way through the show. Their lovely singing voices and their understated interactions with each other strike exactly the right balance to keep people both laughing and sympathizing with the characters. Their contrapuntal "Owner of My Heart" is sweet and beautifully performed.

Emily Rose Unnasch, a newcomer to Desert Rose, is a musical theatre natural whom I hope we'll be seeing frequently. Ms. Unnasch's performance allows us to believe that the hardened Pippi has actually fallen in love with Norbert. When she belted out "But He's Mine," I realized I could be seeing a Country Western star in the making. Despite Pippi's profession as a stripper and her willingness to enter into an affair with a married man, I found it hard to dislike her because of Ms. Unnasch's sympathetic performance.

In contrast to Mr. Pacas, Ms. Tringali-Nunes, and Ms. Unnasch, Cameron Keys plays the violent, marker-sniffing Duke as an over-the-top cartoon, but it works. The scene in which he and Jeannie interact is hilarious, as is his patter song, "Road Kill," sung as he drives from Oklahoma City to Florida in search of Pippi, leaving dead animals scattered in his wake.

BWW Review: THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK MUSICAL at Desert Rose Playhouse
Christine Tringali-Nunes, as Jeannie, in her ironic tee shirt.

As for the three narrators, whose outrageous costumes and performances keep the audiences laughing, director Wayne avoids having them show any subtlety. Yet, in the hands of this trio, these one-dimensional characters somehow become much more.

The set, props, costume design, and tech contributed heavily to my enjoyment of the play. I really liked the Armadillo Acres vacancy sign, projected above the wall. The "Jeep Wrangler" that Duke drives is a hoot. The costumes (designed by Jennifer Stowe) range from ordinary clothing to a Sally Jessy Raphael send-up to an orange version of a 1980's men's suit. The "Storm's-a-Brewin'" number dresses the narrators in glitter, and the disco lights (designed by the always-brilliant Phil Murphy) add to the atmosphere. In addition, Matthew McLean's set design allows a clever pull-out interior of Norbert's and Jeannie's trailer that the actors can easily move themselves.

I was thrilled to see that Mr. Wayne chose to use a live combo instead of prerecorded music. What I sometimes refer to as "canned music" makes the actors' job more difficult, in my opinion, as well as increases the chances of a timing mishap. I believe that the live band in this show enhances the effect of the rollicking song and dance numbers.

The only actual problem I noticed with the production itself, as opposed to the book, was the sound; some of the mikes were unbalanced early in the performance on the night I attended, making some performers hard to hear, at first.

BWW Review: THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK MUSICAL at Desert Rose Playhouse
(L-R) Anthony Nannini, Robbie Wayne, Ben Reece, Michael Pacas

My main caution is that, despite the lack of skin, this is an adult production. Between infidelity, strip club dancing, drugs, and violence, as well as stereotypes of rural Southerners, I strongly recommend leaving kids and those easily offended at home. As for the rest of you - y'all come, you heah?

The rest of the production staff consists of Duke Core (assistant managing director and lighting tech), Nick Wass (audio and video engineer), George Nikitas (stage manager), and Melanie Blue (front of house manager).

THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK will run for one more weekend, on Thursday, August 5th at 7 pm, on Friday and Saturday, August 6th-7th at 8 pm, and on Sunday, August 8th at 2 pm. Tickets are available at www.DesertRosePlayhouse.org, or by calling the box office at 760-202-3000. Individual seats are $34-$37. High-top tables (which seat four people) and VIP couches (which seat two to three) are $175.

Desert Rose Playhouse has moved from its Rancho Mirage location to 611 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, in the same shopping center as the Palm Springs Revivals . The old theater, which had room for only 75 seats, had a serious problem with sight lines, but the new location, in a former nightclub, is a far superior facility, consisting of 7000 square feet.

Desert Rose's schedule for the rest of 2021 consists of:

The Rocky Horror Show, August 26-September 12, 2021.

Xanadu, September 30-October 17, 2021.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, November 4-November 21, 2021.

Christmas with the Crawfords, December 9-December 26, 2021 (return engagement).


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