At last, a musical in San Antonio that’s vulgar, crass, and tasteless — on purpose. Yes, The Great American Trailer Park Musical is making its Southwest Texas premiere at the Cameo Center after a successful off-Broadway stint two years ago. Though Trailer Park is unlikely to give Verdi a run for his money, what’s not to like about a kick line with toilet-bowl scrubbers? (Surely, this is Ty-D-Bol’s finest hour.) Add to this a plethora of e.g. vibrator jokes, and we’ve got the lowest entertainment in San Antonio since the last City Council. The musical is giddy with its own stupidity, and that’s the point.
Penned by the team of Betsy Kelso and David Nehls, Trailer Park catalogues the tribulations of the Florida residents of Armadillo Acres, where pink flamingos indicate excellence-in-decorating, and barbecue is haute cuisine. Alas, not everything is all roses north of the Everglades; when exotic dancer Pippi (Leigh Anne Stewart) blows into town, er, park, her sexy short-shorts (and sophisticated Oklahoma airs) intoxicate local resident Norbert (F. Michael Zaller), a sexually frustrated toll-booth operator. Unfortunately, Norbert is already hitched to agoraphobic basket case Jeannie (Renee Switzer), who can only be lured out of her trailer with tickets to the Ice Capades. Finally, all of Armadillo Acres plunges into chaos when Pippi’s crazed ex-boyfriend, a marker-sniffin’, gun-totin’ drifter named Duke (Joshua Houston Green), embarks on a white-trash odyssey to retrieve his two-timin’ ho’.
This skeletal plot is largely glued together with jokes about incest, spray cheese, Ricki Lake, and other staples of small, small, small town life. The fun is seeing how Kelso and Nehls set up the piece’s truly tacky production numbers, including an ill-motivated but nevertheless entertaining Jerry Springer sequence, and a Donna-Summer-does-Mother-Nature disco hurricane, choreographed with retro-glee by Desiree Johnson-Cortez. Dave Morgan’s mise en scène — not a phrase likely to be uttered in Armadillo Acres — is suitably shabby, particularly the ramshackle trailer that neatly doubles as a spangled go-go joint. Only the second-act opener, a hard-rocking ditty called “Roadkill,” fails (ironically) in its impact; the lighting is too dim for much of the audience to see the first two roadkills — and for this song, it’s the splatter that matters.
The cast, a mix of Texas natives and those hailing from Savannah, Georgia (where director Michael Meece heads up a local theater dedicated to revues), attacks the show with gusto and plenty of hairspray; in particular, a Greek chorus of Jane Haas, Lindsey Williams, and Becky King keeps things lively, though Haas’s voice isn’t much of a solo instrument. Zeller boasts a sweet baritone and an appropriately adorable hangdog expression; Switzer and Green effectively represent the yin-and-yang of trailer-park life. It’s Stewart that really lights up the stage with her polished, big-hearted performance as the little-whore-that-could. Those legs! That dancing pole! And yet, for a catty satire on lower-class Americans, the musical betrays a surprising sentimental streak, and Stewart manages to land the uplifting (and pun-filled) finale with real finesse and an impressive set of pipes.
One suspects that in its original Big Apple incarnation, Trailer Park provided a tongue in cheek commentary on blue-state perceptions of red states. In Texas, however, Trailer Park holds, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature. (If anything, the jokes about Old Sparky are even more
appropriate to the Lone Star state; when it comes to capital punishment, Florida ain’t got nothing on us.) On press night, many in the audience, already pickled to the gills, spent much of the first act hopping out of their seats to urinate — so much for the fourth wall between spectator and spectacle. I suppose that’s a peril of watching theater in a converted bar, but still, it’s distracting. Theater purists, beware.
In general, the Cameo does right by the musical; though the score is pre-recorded, the singers were never out of sync and the whole shebang is well-produced. In those moments when all of the tacky, satirical elements click precisely, this
musical hits the disco ball right out of the Park. •
The Great American Trailer Park Musical
Through Dec 31
1123 E. Commerce