What do you think of when you hear the words “trailer park”? Trash cans and trash-talk? Plastic lawn chairs and pink flamingoes? Low-cut blouses and low-brow humor?
Well, you have stumbled on the right place. Starke, Florida, that is. Home of Armadillo Acres, where Jeannie and Norbert are having marital spats—on the cusp of their 20th anniversary. Pippi the stripper just moved in next door, and Norbert is about to be a goner. Pippi’s pen-sniffing, off-the-wall ex-boyfriend is armed, jealous and hellbent on vengeance. And the three harpies of the homestead have something to say about everyone—including each other. Mostly in song.
Welcome to The Great American Trailer Park Musical (music and lyrics by David Nehls, book by Betsy Kelso), which just bowed into the Coronado Playhouse (with another production sidling into the San Diego Repertory Theatre in November).
Since the show’s Off Broadway premiere in 2005, it’s been doing the circuit of professional and community theaters, not to mention a national tour and productions in England, Scotland and Australia. And why not? Chock full of quirky characters, it’s a juicy treat for actors, the songs are fun and funny, and the band gets to flex its blues, rock and country muscles. This is off-color amusement for all (except the very young, of course. The sex talk, gyrations and innuendo, coupled with raunchy repartee, might make a sailor blush).
The Coronado production is skillfully and imaginatively directed (Nick Reeves) and inventively designed (Amy Reams), with trailer walls that pull up or down to reveal what’s going on inside; a barbecue that doubles as a costume trunk and makeup mirror; and a Bag Lady who collects props in her supermarket cart, which creatively converts to a car. The costumes (Eileen Salsman, Jane Russell) are whimsical and sometimes hilarious; the giant bell-bottomed, platform shoe, Mamma Mia outfits are especially delicious.
Reeves keeps the pace lively and the comedy light. This kind of show can easily veer over the top and far beyond character into the realm of caricature or cartoon. But there’s plenty of heart here, along with the humor. The four-piece band is excellent, anchored by music director Erich Einfalt’s killer guitar. The acting is fine throughout, but the singing is more variable.
Stephanie Jenkins, as Pippi, is the vocal and physical highlight of the show. A graduate of the Boston Conservatory and a newcomer to town, Jenkins should soon be snapped up by theaters all over town: she’s pretty, agile and multitalented, with a voice that easily moves from soprano-sweet to down-and-dirty growly to a rock-‘em-sock-‘em Broadway-type belt. As Jeannie Garstecki, the agoraphobic wife in the bunny slippers, Mary Augustine gets off to a shaky vocal start; the ballad, “Owner of My Heart,” just seems out of her range. But in the second act, she totally nails two bluesy numbers (“But He’s Mine” and “Panic”).
The trio of gossips is great, with Lisa Allison, in multiple roles, a particular treat, both comically and vocally. Dean Sage is a hoot as the hopped-up hothead of a boyfriend, Duke. His “high” scene is reminiscent of the gut-busting, nitrous-loving dentist in “Little Shop of Horrors”—though Duke comes to a far better end.
So, it isn’t a perfect production, but it is pitch-perfect. The show features plenty of clever riffs on this double-wide target—and plenty of cackles and chortles, too.
The Great American Trailer Park Musical continues through May 15 at the Coronado Playhouse.
Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Tickets ($20-25) are available at 619-435-4856 or coronadoplayhouse.com