The Great American Trailer Park Musical is just that – a great American musical about the goings on at a trailer park. Park City’s Dark Horse Company Theatre brought Armadillo Acres and its residents to irreverent life in this ninety-odd-minute, intermission-free romp.With book by Betsy Kelso and music and lyrics by David Nehls, The Great American Trailer Park Musical follows Jeannie and Norbert Garstekis in the month leading up to their wedding anniversary. Jeannie, whose traumatic past has turned her agoraphobic, is taking steps (her first outside the house in 20 years) towards a date at the Ice Capades, while Norbert is falling for the stripper next door. Without giving too much away, bad-perm-y , hysterical -pregnancy, stolen-baby, and dream-sequence-y hilarity ensues.
The story is told by a versatile trio comprised of Betty (Shalee Schmidt), Armadillo Acres’ landlady; Linoleum (Marianne Armistead), whose husband is behind bars; and Pickles (Carianne H. Jones), an adorable if slightly confused teenager. Schmidt, Armistead, and Jones have a huge responsibility, as the show is carried largely by these three characters. They rose to the challenge magnificently, filling every bit part from talk show host to “Flan Stand” workers to road kill. All three women have crazy good voices (especially Schmidt in “Storm’s A-Brewin'”), and each brought something unique to the table, which created an exciting and dynamic ensemble. After they appeared as mullet-sporting strip fans, I couldn’t wait to see what they would do next.
Nestled in the midst of the zingers about trailer park life was a story line that I found to be surprisingly relatable and actually touching. Glade seems to have focused on finding the humanity in some potentially unlikable characters. Jennifer Perry (Pippi, the stripper) was flawless in her delivery, with “But He’s Mine” and her “make like a nail and press on” from the finale being particularly vivid.
Rocky Revels (Norbert) and Lisa Grow (Jeannie) portrayed a man and a woman who are struggling with their marriage and trying to find reasons to love each other. Their characters were deep, textural, and believable. One scene made each of them especially sympathetic: Jeannie shows Norbert, a week before their anniversary, that she can now walk to the bottom of the stairs in front of the Garstekis home. They share a moment of elation, then Norbert excuses himself so he can wrangle with his thoughts — he is in love with two different women (“It Doesn’t Take a Genius”). Grow and Revels played this scene incredibly well. There was a perfect balance of comedy and tragedy, and the hope and the pain and the doubt were all very real. I won’t soon forget that performance.
The Great American Trailer Park Musical seemed to have a lot going for it: a fabulous set (the blue tarps and inner tube swing are a nice touch), immensely talented actors, a disco dance break, and lawn flamingos. But there were a few things that this reviewer thought it lacked. While the cast members were very funny and interesting to watch, some of the jokes were a little too broad and a few gags thudded awkwardly to the floor. What director Christopher Glade missed was the subtlety and stillness that can be just as effective as slapstick. Also, the show I saw wasn’t quite a polished finished product. I noticed a few dropped lines, some missed steps in the dances, some harmonies which weren’t as tight as the rest, and a sloppy delivery of a few of the funniest lines. The thing that would have taken this show from great to phenomenal is precision; a little more rehearsal time and a firm hand from the director go a long way.
Overall, my experience in Stark, Florida, was an excellent one. What I loved most about The Great American Trailer Park Musical was that it was what it was, and the Dark Horse Company Theatre embraced it in all its trashy glory. The show was not over produced or over-cast (as is the tragedy that befalls so many productions in Utah). It didn’t try to be anything but what it was– a great American musical with a great American cast who told a great American story.