January 12, 2008 in City

Musical is low-rent good fun

By The Spokesman-Review
 

“The Great American Trailer Park Musical” isn’t exactly a great American musical – but at least it’s a semi-great trailer park musical.

This national touring company delivers what the title promises: An endless stream of redneck jokes, big hair and low-rent good fun. If jokes about spray-on cheese and conjugal prison visits are what you seek, get yourself to the Bing.

The book, by Betsy Kelso, contains a steady string of laugh lines:

•”My full name is Linoleum, because I was born on the kitchen floor.”

•(About the Ice Capades) “Everybody knows entertainment ain’t entertainment unless it’s on ice.”

•”We do not marry our cousins. Not without a pre-nup.”

•(About her “high-class” boyfriend) “He likes to buy foreign beer and cheese that smells like urine.”

The audience at Thursday night’s opening howled at many of these lines. There were a few hitches in the musical numbers and a few comic exchanges that could stand to be polished, but that’s understandable. This was the opening performance of a 30-city tour. It shouldn’t take long before these scenes run as smoothly as the rest of the show.

Members of the ensemble cast – Dane Agostinis, Doreen Barnard, Lindsay Devino, Dave Howard, Erica Livingston, MaryAnne Piccolo and Sara Ruzicka – were uniformly strong. They reminded me of a particularly talented improv comedy team, and in fact some came from that world. Barnard, terrific as Betty, the show’s ringleader, has roots in the Upright Citizens Brigade and Second City.

The songs, by David Nehls, aren’t quite as strong as Kelso’s book, although the best tunes – “Storms A-Brewin’” and “Owner of My Heart” – certainly deliver some nice emotional high points. They range in style from country to R&B to standard pop – and at one point, I swear, we even saw a brief Eartha Kitt impersonation.

I had difficulty deciphering the lyrics, which is too bad, because some of the lyrics were funny: “Just like clothes at Wal-Mart, my love life is fallin’ apart,” and the big closing theme, “I gotta make like a nail, and press on.” The problem did not seem to be in the sound system (the musical accompaniment is prerecorded) but simply in the vocal delivery, which often seemed rushed.

Livingston, as Jeannie, deserves special mention in the vocal category, because she has a powerful country-tinged alto, which she used to impressive effect in “Panic” and “Owner of My Heart.”

The plot is pretty thin: An exotic dancer named Pippi moves to Armadillo Acres Trailer Park in Stark, Fla. Chaos ensues. She steals toll-booth attendant Norbert away from Jeannie, his agoraphobic wife. Then Pippi’s glue-sniffing ex-boyfriend Duke arrives with a gun.

This is all mostly an excuse for a series of clever dream sequences and comic sketches. At various times, the show segues into a “Sally Jessy Raphael” TV episode, a high school flashback, a musical storm sequence and an extended production number about plumbing (“Flush Down the Pipes”).

The danger in a trailer park show is, let’s face it, snobbery. It can be insufferably condescending to the, ahem, lower classes. However, Kelso and Nehls alleviate that problem by giving us characters who are endearing, lovable and human. Yes, we laugh at their accents and lack of education, but we also identify with them and pull for them.

Even Duke, who comes across as a trashier version of Ted Nugent, proves to be merely misunderstood. Turns out, life in Armadillo Acres isn’t much different than life in a gated suburban development – except maybe more fun.


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