The Great American
Trailer Park Musical
Music and Lyrics by David Nehls
Trailer Park’s contagious fun overcomes cracks in story
|Kokandy Productions presents|
|The Great American Trailer Park Musical|
Review by Lauren Whalen
At the moment, Kokandy Productions is one of the only games in town. August is a virtually dead month for Chicago theatre, with very few openings. The Great American Trailer Park Musical, running all this month at Theater Wit, is destined to do well by default. Luckily it’s a fun ride, poking fun at stereotypes without blatant disrespect, along with stellar production values and a clever cast overshadowing an occasionally dull story.
The Armadillo Acres Trailer Park – in Starke, Florida just off Highway 301 – is a hotbed of gossip, intrigue and Ice Capades tickets. Married right out of high school, Norbert (Jonathan Hickerson) and Jeannie (Christina Hall) haven’t been the same since Jeannie developed agoraphobia after the kidnapping of their son nearly 20 years ago. Trouble really arises, however, when Norbert begins an affair with new resident Pippi (Bri Schumacher), an exotic dancer on the run from her Magic Marker-huffing ex-boyfriend (Alex Grelle). Gleefully narrating the action are a delightfully trashy Greek chorus: Armadillo Acres manager Betty (Danni Smith), who may or may not have buried her husband in the park; sassy Linoleum (Ashley Braxton), whose husband has been on Death Row for eight years due to a faulty electric chair; and teenage Pickles (Jennifer Wisegarver), who misses her actor spouse so much she’s fallen victim to several hysterical pregnancies.
Trailer Park’s main storyline is the love triangle formed by Norbert, Jeannie and Pippi. Norbert is intrigued by Pippi’s glamour and willingness, but still truly loves his wife; while Jeannie must brace herself to face the outdoors and Pippi’s constantly looking over her shoulder for her gun-toting ex. Despite the three actors’ fantastic effort, this plot line is really not that interesting. Writers David Nehls and Betsy Kelso might have concentrated on more happenings in Armadillo Acres or given the characters an ensemble feel – the show’s more serious moments feel sappy and disconcerting. That said, both Hall and Schumacher have powerful voices, belting out complex ballads with heartrending gusto. (Kudos to music director Allison Hendrix for her exceptional guidance.) As in last year’s Enter Love at Quest Theatre (my review), Schumacher’s beautiful, expressive face is put to good use here. Grelle has some funny moments as Pippi’s nasty former lover, and Hickerson is believably bewildered by his romantic complications.
The real entertainment comes from Betty, Linoleum and Pickles’ colorful commentary and doo-wop harmonies reminiscent of Little Shop of Horrors. As she struts around the stage in her muumuu and leggings, Smith’s Betty is the stiff-haired, caftan-clad mistress of her dollar store-decorated domain. Wisegarver is all wide eyes and perky pigtails as the sweetly dim Pickles. And Braxton gives Linoleum a big voice and even bigger personality, sporting a Bump-It unironically and with pride.
Costume designer Angela Enos makes genius work of trailer park fashion, hitting all the right notes with stretch pants, loud T-shirts and claw hair clips (remember those?). My only criticism is that Pippi’s stripper shoes should have higher heels. Armadillo Acres comes to life with pastel colors and lightweight doors thanks to the scenic and lighting design of Zachary Gipson and Brandon Wardell. By assembling a crack production team and phenomenal cast, director John D. Glover ensures pure fun even when Trailer Park’s script is less than perfect.
Scot T. Kokandy possesses both business acumen and a passion for theatre, which he’s put to good use as a part of last year’s Good Boys and True from Towle Theater and the recent Broadway revival of Godspell. With the well-timed and entertaining Trailer Park, he’s shared another worthy project with the masses. Keep up the good work, sir.
The Great American Trailer Park Musical continues through August 26th at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map), with performances Wednesdays-Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays 2pm and 8pm, Sundays 2pm. Tickets are $30, and are available by phone (773-975-8150) or online through TheaterWit.org (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at KokandyProductions.com. (Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission)
Photos by Joshua Albanese
Ashley Braxton (Linoleum, ”Lin”); Alex Grelle (Duke); Christina Hall (Jeannie Garstecki); Jonathan Hickerson (Norbert Garstecki); Bri Schumacher (Pippi); Danni Smith (Betty); Jennifer Wisegarver (Donna, ”Pickles”)
Trailer Park band
Allison Hendrix (keyboard); Dan Toot (guitar); Michael Sinclair (bass); Phil Martin (drums)
behind the scenes
John D. Glover (director); Allison Hendrix (music director); Tom Coppola (choreography); Zachary Gipson (set design, master carpenter); Brandon Wardell (lighting); Angela Enos (costumes); Jeffrey Levin (sound design); John Buranosky (props); Katrina Kiss (stage manager); Ryan Bourque (fight choreography); Lindsey Lyddan (asst lighting); Rachel Regan (sound board operator); Kevin Barthel (Betty Wig designer); Scott T. Kokandy (producer); Joshua Albanese (photos)