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A CurtainUp Review
The Great American Trailer Park Musical
By Eric Beckson
As Jeff Foxworthy observed, there is a large audience for redneck humor. Perhaps it's a fanfare for the common (and grotesque) man or just a way of laughing at our poor, dumb neighbors (or ourselves, if the shoe fits). Either way, Betsy Kelso has written a book (she also directs) that plumbs the depths of redneck humor, while David Nehls (music & lyrics) provides the forgettable melodies that serve the basic needs of wailing divas. The reprised "Make Like a Nail and Press On" serves as the finale, and the other lyrics are not much more creative.
Perhaps the most significant (or objective) observation I can make is the audience reaction: phenomenal. On the night I attended, I witnessed a standing ovation from most. This could qualify as a musical that flies under the critical radar and packs the house night after night.
As boorish as the writing is, there's so much talent at hand that it's difficult to tune out. Trapped in the plain wrapper of a toll collector who cheats on his neurotic wife, Shuler Henseley (Tony winner for Jud Fry in Oklahoma!) has an extraordinary baritone that provides a wonderful contrast to the shrill voices of the five female cast members. Linda Hart (originator of the role of Velma Von Tussle in Hairspray) could probably sing the roof off of any Baptist church with Nehls' gospel and rockabilly inspired tunes, as could her co-stars, Orfeh and Marya Grandy.
The more delicate country ballads are reserved for Kaitlin Hopkins, as the neurotic wife who cannot leave her trailer. But because of the flimsy characters and inconsequential plot, her plaintive songs are less entertaining than those of her raunchy neighbors. Getting more than her fair share of the laughs is Leslie Kritzer, who plays a moron with great skill. (Imagine a redneck Lucille Ball.)
At the heart of the small town Florida story is a love triangle between Norbert Garstecki (Henseley), his agoraphobic (and sexless) wife Jeannie (Hopkins) and the stripper Pippi (Orfeh). Pippi, having just moved into Armadillo Acres, is trying to escape a past (and a moronic, magic marker inhaling, possessive young man), but creates more problems for herself when the lonely Norbert falls for her. They meet at a strip bar, after Pippi performs her not so lascivious dance (highlighting the deep down moralistic nature of the target audience). In an amusing exchange, Pippi asks Norbert if he knows what it's like to collect dollar after dollar all night long. Pretty soon, they're arranging rendezvous after rendezvous (which we're told is French for fucking). Betty (Hart), Linoleum (Grandy), and Pickles (Kritzer) serve as narration and general commentary on the love triangle and stereotypical life in a trailer park.
The set is quite inventive, resembling several trailers with satellite dishes on top. The trailers slide open, becoming sets within the set. Derek McLane's creativity in set design is accompanied by an equally talented lighting design by Donald Holder who effortlessly shifts the set from day to night and from good weather to bad. Hair design by Josh Marquette is probably more noticeable (and crucial) than the rather simple costumes. The choreography is spare but very good.
I don't know if you will like The Great American Trailor Park Musical, but if you have ever financed a tattoo, given rat traps as a gift, or have every episode of Hee Haw on video tape -- or at least enjoy this kind of endless humor--you just might.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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