By Rich Kane
By Joel Beers
By LP Hastings
By Dave Barton
By Patrice Wirth Marsters
By Erin DeWitt
By Taylor Hamby
By LP Hastings
One might think, with the array of garbage on television—from filthy hoarders and illiterate swamp people to shrewish dance moms and Kathie Lee & Hoda (a combination of the three)—we'd just about had our fill of the grossest, dumbest, most annoying people on the planet. And we have. But during the early years of poking fun at halfwits and inbreds, when only Jerry Springer and Sally Jesse Raphael dared to scrape the slothful underbelly of rank humanity, trailer-park people were American royalty. They weren't educated, and they were skanky, sure, but their perversions never went further than sleeping with a neighbor's grandmother and giving birth to cousin-children—and who doesn't do that nowadays?
In 2004, composer/lyricist David Nehls and playwright Betsy Kelso capitalized on the Crappy Caucasian Craze with The Great American Trailer Park Musical and had a bona-fide hit tramping out a melodic love triangle intertwining an agoraphobe, her tollbooth-collector husband and the stripper who lives one trailer over; now, that nostalgia has arrived at STAGEStheatre, directed with just the right amount of sass and crass by Jack Millis, and it's a welcome breath of fresh Febreze.
The familiar story can be plucked from any lowbrow imagination, but what makes this version of lecherous love so appealing is the characters, regardless of their frosted hair, beer koozies and squeezable cheese, have heart—and some hilarious songs to belt out. The residents of Florida's Armadillo Acres use tunes such as "Flushed Down the Pipes" to tell the story of high-school sweethearts Norbert (James Daniel Finnerty) and Jeannie (Anna Kate Mohler), who've been relatively happily married until sweet but slutty Pippi the pole dancer (Erin Miller) moves in; Pippi, who strips at Grits & Tits, is on the run from her marker-sniffing, gun-toting ex-boyfriend Duke (Adam Poynter), who has a secret connection to the trailer-park residents.
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Their tale might risk flatlining, however, if not for a trio of tube-topped tartlets, Betty (Patti Cumby), Lin (Candice M. Clasby) and Pickles (Kat Gutierrez), who serve as both narrators of the story and pals—and bring down the house repeatedly. Cumby runs (one might even say steals) the show, with able help from Clasby and Gutierrez, and she makes standout numbers "Storm's A-brewin'" (think the Weather Girls' "It's Raining Men," but with a sprinkler dance) and "Finale" (which leads with the chorus line "make like a nail and press on") power ballads to rival anything by Motley Crüe.
Twists and turns abound, including a child-abduction subplot, some well-worn tickets to the Ice Capades, death-row executions, closeted husbands and a body buried beneath someone's double-wide, and every character gets a witty, punchy number to garner his or her share of laughs while pushing the tawdry tale further down the wrong side of the tracks; thanks to the exceptional one-man band of musical director Andy Zacharias, who sits upstage next to a cooler with a keyboard, the aluminum siding often threatens to peel right off the particle board.
Director Millis had no easy task trying to maneuver all of these sequined bodies around a tiny set and manages to infuse the flow with enough shtick to keep the momentum and guffaws rolling. He and set designer Jon Gaw also deserve super-size-me kudos for throwing in an abundance of eye candy such as the address numbers on the mailboxes—227 (Jackée Harry!), 420 and 69—and for opening up the show with Dolly Parton's "Two Doors Down." It's a rip-roaring romp from beginning to end, so if you're truly sick of pin-headed heiresses, teen moms who don't have to work, creepy polygamists and just about anyone who's receiving a huge chunk of change for completely degrading the human race, grab a six-pack of Club Cocktails in a can and enjoy an evening of wholesome white trashiness in which gals refuse to stab one another in the back, kids aren't emotionally scarred and guys don't have to act like testosterone-crazed cavemen to prove their manhood. You can always get your heebies back on when you return home and slip on your tiara.
This review appeared in print as "Putting the 'Class' Back in Trash: The Great American Trailer Park Musical reminds us of kinder, gentler, redneck-ier days."