Story: Life is fine for the residents of Armadillo Acres, a trailer park in the town of Starke, Florida, a hamlet of 5,500 residents that boasts at least two stripper joints. Trouble is brewing, however, because tollbooth collector Norbert wants to celebrate his 20th wedding anniversary with agoraphobic wife Jeannie at the Ice Capades. Jeannie hasn’t ventured outside since their infant son was abducted two decades earlier, and Norbert’s level of frustration is at a fever pitch.
Temptation comes calling in the form of Pippi, a stripper on the run from crazed boyfriend Duke. She and Norbert quickly hook up, something Jeannie finds out when she musters the nerve to step outside and sees shenanigans occurring near Pippi’s trailer. With the help of resident busybodies Betty, Lin and Pickles, can Jeannie overcome her fears and win back her husband -- if she wants him back at all?
Highlights: Who knows what inspires artists in their creations? It’s surely a limitless list of possibilities, a prime example of which is this delightfully daffy concoction written by Betsy Kelso in conjunction with composer and lyricist David Nehls. Their witty, ribald tale premiered as part of the inaugural (you can’t have a first annual, folks) New York Music Theater Festival in 2004 and moved to Off Broadway in 2005.
It caught the attention of someone at Stray Dog Theatre and now shows up in this local premiere production directed in deliciously decadent fashion by Justin Been. You know you’re in for a good time when you settle back and take in the tacky sights assembled by set designer David Blake, who apparently attended classes at Tawdry Community College, where he was taught to make sure the screen doors stay attached and to keep a supply of beer bottles within easy grasp of the performers.
Other Info: Blake sure as heck sets the mood for this fun-loving foray into good times, abetted by the sleazy, cheap duds adorning the players courtesy of costume designer Alexandra Squibetta Quigley (although they’d never let her into Armadillo Acres with a name like that). Lighting designer Tyler Duenow keeps the trailer park and the stripper joint bathed in gaudy neon lights.
As silly and comically stereotyped as Kelso’s story is, what really propels this two-act charmer are the infectious, rockabilly tunes penned by Nehls. Choreographer J.T. Ricroft molds a mélange of moves that capture the flavor of the yarn and keep the show lively and humorous as the players sashay across the stage and even up and down the aisles. With vocal and musical director Chris Petersen’s crackerjack band hidden upstage behind the strip joint, there’s plenty of room for Been’s inspired cast to cavort to Rycroft’s dances and Nehls’ nifty numbers.
That band, by the way, includes percussionist Clarence “Clancy” Newell (except when Jim Guglielmo substitutes on August 12), Bob McMahon on electric bass guitar and acoustic and electric guitarist Adam Rugo.
The show opens with the rollicking This Side of the Tracks, sung in inspired fashion by Kim Furlow as Betty, Kay Love as Lin (named Linoleum ‘cuz that’s where she was born) and Jessica Tilghman as Donna, aka Pickles, who can’t convince anyone that she’s really pregnant. They’re joined by Lindsey Jones as Jeannie, Zachary Stefaniak as Norbert and Jamie Lynn Marble as Pippi.
Keith Parker Jr. as Duke doesn’t get to sing until Act II, but he arrives in grand style to warble about Road Kill, with the park’s Greek chorus of gal pals dressed up with the ears of various varmints as Duke mows ‘em down in his vehicle.
Love and Marble sport the best voices in the ensemble, but everyone comfortably carries a tune and moves the story forward with their precise comic touches. Tilghman comes close to stealing the show as the gray matter-challenged Pickles, as well as a waitress at Stand By Your Flan who can’t describe to Duke exactly what flan is, even though she sells it. Her expressions seal the deal for the goofy goings-on in Armadillo Acres.
Really, the only stumble is a surprisingly dull and slow finale. I mean, who ends an upbeat, rocking musical with a ballad? I guess Nehls does. Note to David: Don’t do that again.
Anyway, bring a cheap sixpack down to Starke and set back on a cooler with Betty, Lin and Pickles to learn about the dreams and desires of the good folks of Armadillo Acres. Y’all come back now, hear?
Musical: The Great American Trailer Park Musical
Group: Stray Dog Theatre
Venue: Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Avenue
Dates: August 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18
Tickets: $18-$20; contact 314-865-1995 or StrayDogTheatre.org
Rating: A 5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of John Lamb