1:45 PM CDT, August 10, 2012
At one point in "The Great American Trailer Park Musical," a campy off-Broadway spoof with music and lyrics by David Nehls and a book by Betsy Kelso, the crazed ex-boyfriend of a stripper-on-the-run shows up at the Armadillo Acres Trailer Park and waves a gun around at the terrified residents and threatens to shoot up the whole place.
Sitting there at Theater Wit on Wednesday, I really didn't find that moment all that funny. Sure, I can laugh at the satiric notion that all residents of Florida trailer parks have dysfunctional relationships, come with names like Lin (in honor of linoleum), Pippi and Pickles, sport big hair and have an abiding love of motor vehicles, Costco economies of scale, prison appeals and tabloid TV, but I'd say that particular piece of comic business could use an overhaul. Call me over-sensitive, but there have been a few too many examples of the real thing since this piece first emerged at the New York Music Theatre Festival in 2004.
Granted, anyone headed to a show with this title is unlikely to be offended by a show trafficking in working-class stereotypes. And, yes, take a turn around such a Floridian park and you'll surely find some wild arrays of ornamental plastic critters, if not former exotic dancers living the life. "The Great American Trailer Park Musical," which employs a Greek chorus of trash, you might say, has its moments. But really, the changes in life since 2004 have not been so kind to this piece: Lots of very diverse and atypical folks live in trailer parks out of choice or economic necessity, and they don't necessarily conform to what we see here.
All right, it's a comedy. If you can maybe pre-drink (no imports) your way past that the smugness of urbanites laughing at these kind of folks, (and the reality that the material, especially the book, just has severe comedic limitations), this lively off-Loop commercial production certainly is performed with infectious enthusiasm. Kokandy Productions, the producing entity, is run by a new producer called Scot T. Kokandy and he's certainly put some budget, panache and craft into this production. There's a full-blown trailer park (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) from designer Zachary Gipson crammed into the intimate Theater Wit, replete with a cutaway outside of the main abode, a deft four-piece band in the rear, and a decent young cast who mostly keep things on the right side of the crass. Gipson's set, which has real brightness, wit and pizazz, is a great piece of work.
Christina Hall plays Jeannie, a character who refuses to exit her trailer even to see Ice Capades, and this fine young actress offers up some heart along with the silliness, a quality that this kind of material badly needs. Bri Schumacher, who plays that sad-eyed stripper on the run, belts out her numbers with some style. And the rest of the cast (Ashley Braxton, Alex Grelle, Jonathan Hickerson, Danni Smith and Jennifer Wisegarver) all sell their shtick for 90 ninety minutes like they're hawking countdown costume jewelry on QVC.
The staging, from director John D. Glover is well paced and, in its way, quite visually inventive, although Glover occasionally lets the broad and the obvious dominate the subtle and the believable. Tone and believability count for so much in this kind of piece. In general, the material and the production are stronger in the songs than in the book: The lyrics, unlike most of the dialog, are witty and the lively score ranges from rockabilly to country to pop. It's no "Pump Boys and Dinettes," but that show didn't have "Flushed Down the Pipes," a love song involving cleaning products and blocked outlets.
When: Through Aug. 26
Where: Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 mins.
Tickets: $30 at 773-975-8150 or http://www.kokandyproductions.com