The Great American Trailer Park Musical
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
September 26, 2005
When I was a boy, growing up in Prince Georges County, Maryland, we had a family friend named Joan who had been born and bred in a nearby Southern Maryland small town. Joan had lots of style, in her way, but not what urban sophisticates would call class. She had a joke she loved to tell, about how somebody had asked her what her dog Blaze's whole name was. Answer: Ass. (A pun on whole/hole, you see.) Telling this story, she would invariably dissolve into peals of raucous laughter.
This is essentially the kind of humor you can expect at The Great American Trailer Park Musical. This celebration of Trailer Trash/Redneck Dumb-As-A-Doorknob Kitschy Vulgarity is probably a lot of fun, if you like that sort of thing. It is exceedingly well-crafted, featuring a tuneful score with appropriate and occasionally even clever lyrics by David Nehls, a gag-laden book by Betsy Kelso, exuberant direction by Kelso and lots of nifty retro choreography by Sergio Trujillo, garish costumes by Markas Henry and equally outlandish hair design by Josh Marquette, and a septet of high-energy performances by Broadway-caliber singer/dancer/actors Marya Grandy, Linda Hart, Shuler Hensley, Kaitlin Hopkins, Leslie Kritzer, Orfeh, and Wayne Wilcox.
The crowd at the performance I attended seemed to be having just the time of their lives. I, it must be said, was not; Trailer Park actually made me very sad. Some of the time—regarding Tony winner Shuler Hensley (Jud in the recent Trevor Nunn Oklahoma!) as a singing toll booth attendant, or powerhouse Linda Hart (who stole the 1987 Anything Goes revival out from under Patti LuPone when she did her show-stopper "Buddie Beware!") pretending to be a very poor man's Sally Jesse Raphael—all I could think was, how the mighty have fallen. And some of the time—as during the lengthy production number "Storm's A-Brewin," which looks and sounds like it's been appropriated from about a half-dozen different pop cultural sources, but darned if I could actually identify a single one—I thought, man, am I outta touch.
Most of the time, though, I was thinking that songs about roadkill just don't strike me as very funny. Trailer Park—I repeat: extremely well put-together—feels, to me, like a very sorry squandering of a lot of wonderful talent.
But who am I to judge?; as my companion, whose reaction was very similar to mine, remarked later, people are under a lot of stress these days—they need to just let go. I guess Trailer Park is as good a place to relax as any; I just wish it had a little more wit and little more intellectual heft on its bones.
It has almost none. It's about a couple named Norbert and Jeannie who live in a trailer park in Florida. Their marriage is on the skids, at least in part because she hasn't left the trailer in more than a decade, since their only child was kidnapped. A stripper named Pippi, on the run from her boyfriend, arrives from Oklahoma City and moves into the trailer next door. She and Norbert commence an affair. Will Norbert and Jeannie get back together? Will they ever find their son?
I confess that I don't know the answer to either question, because I exited Trailer Park after about an hour and a few minutes; I just couldn't take it any more (maybe I'm sentimental about my Southern Maryland roots). But I bet I can guess, and I bet you can too. Hensley and Hopkins play the couple; Orfeh (big-voiced sensation from Saturday Night Fever) is the stripper; Wilcox is the stripper's boyfriend; and Hart, Grandy, and Kritzer are a sort of three-woman Greek chorus who keep the thing moving along.
Major kudos to Derek McLane's set, which deserves a way smarter show to be in. In fact, that's pretty much true for everybody and everything involved in The Great American Trailer Park Musical. But I may just be some sort of anti-dopiness grinch, here, and if so I'm sorry. People around me did seem to be having a pretty lively time.