November 22, 2011
Hey, you wanna talk trash? I mean, trailer trash.
Then head to the San Diego Repertory Theatre for “The Great American Trailer Park Musical.” It’s got Hawaiian shirts, spray Velveeta, pink flamingos, and a heap of foul-mouthed fulminations, not to mention a stripper, a pen-sniffer, an agoraphobic and a series of false pregnancies. Worms may be for sale, but brains aren’t on the menu.
Welcome to Armadillo Acres in Starke, Florida, where everybody’s up in everyone else’s business, and a 20-year marriage seems to be fading, as an extra-marital affair begins to bloom in its place.
The Ice Capades are in town, but Jeannie can’t celebrate with her husband, because she hasn’t left her double-wide since her baby boy was kidnapped years ago. So Norbert is steppin’ out with Pippi, the stripper next door. Meanwhile, Pippi’s being stalked by her ex-boyfriend Duke, a gun-totin’, cycle-ridin’ psychopath. And behind (and in front of) the scenes, three harpies see all, tell all.
The show premiered Off Broadway in 2005, and it’s been on national tour and abroad, including a stop at the Coronado Playhouse six months ago. The David Nehls/Betsy Kelso musical fit perfectly into that intimate, compact space, which gave us just the right claustrophobic feel and a blast of fresh blue-collar air.
At the San Diego Repertory Theatre, the piece has enlarged and expanded to fit the sizable space. So everything is engorged and somewhat bloated. There’s an awful lot of glitz in this backwater, and everyone seems to be working awfully hard to make us like them. Wish they’d all work a little harder at making us hear them. The 4-piece band (excellent) often overpowers the singers. And that isn’t easy to do with this killer cast, some of the best vocalists in town. But, on opening night, the sound mix, balance and quality were so off that the lines and lyrics frequently could not be understood.
The primary problem is, the piece just isn’t funny in this production – and it definitely was in Coronado. Nehls’ lyrics are clever, and Kelso’s quirky book is, too. But the humor doesn’t pop here. The cast is way over the top in pushing their (here cartoonish) characters, but somehow, they let many comic lines languish. The stripper isn’t sexy enough, the hysterically pregnant Pickles isn’t off-the-wall ditsy enough. The trio of nosey parkers may be coarse and crass (especially Leigh Scarritt’s character) yet they aren’t pulling in the laughs like they should. But boy, can they all sing!
Each one – Courtney Corey, David Kirk Grant, Jill Van Velzer, David McBean, Melinda Gilb, Scarritt and Kailey O’Donnell – has at least one wonderful musical moment. They belt, they cavort, they try madly to entertain. But they’re so obviously pushing so hard that it doesn’t feel organic or comical. The score is mostly twangy or blues-inflected country, peppered with novelty numbers and a few heartfelt ballads (mostly, and superbly, sung by Corey, a veteran of national tours and an alumna of the MFA program in musical theater at SDSU).
The costumes and scenic design (by Patté Award winners Alina Bokovikova and Ian Wallace, respectively) are witty and meticulous. The choreography (Javier Velasco) is fine, not intrusive, though not wildly imaginative. Same can be said for the direction (Sam Woodhouse). There were all sorts of inventive creations in Coronado, perhaps to compensate for the lower production values. It worked better.
Trailer park residents may not be as amused as the rest of us (after my radio review a few months back, one irate listener reminded me that not all double-wide residents are trailer trash. Point taken).
As Woodhouse put it at the opening, with tongue firmly in cheek, this is the Rep’s “deeply thought-out holiday gift to San Diego.” So, if what you crave is a mindless, trash-talkin’ musical fluff-piece, pull right into the ‘Trailer Park.”
“The Great American Trailer Park Musical, ” at the San Diego Repertory Theatre in Horton Plaza, has been extended through December 11.