Last Friday I was able to watch a dress rehearsal of The Gaslight Dinner Theatre’s production of The Great American Trailer Park Musical. The songs and choreography are great, and this production will make for an entertaining night or afternoon out. In particular, if you like musical comedies, but always wished they could be a little more like reality television, this is the show for you.
The play will start showing July 5 and will continue until July 30, with matinees on Tuesday and Thursday at 12 noon and night showings on Fridays and Saturdays at 6:30 pm at the Gaslight Theatre in the Renaissance Center of Dickson, Tennessee. I would advise against bringing children or people who might be offended by lewd behavior to this as there is some objectionable content. There isn’t anything in the musical that is worse than PG-13 really, but there are references and allusions to things that might be difficult to explain to an innocent or pious soul without blushing.
The story of the Great American Trailer Park Musical takes place, appropriately enough, in a trailer park in North Florida. The main characters are Norbert and Jeannie, a married couple living in one of the trailers and Pippi, a stripper who is on the run from her boyfriend. Throughout the play we also hear from three female characters who act as a sort of Greek chorus, explaining the situation and being a sort-of model audience for what happens. Betty is the landlady; Linoleum, who was born on the kitchen floor, has a husband on death row; and the last is Pickles, a young woman with a penchant for having hysterical pregnancies. Pippi’s boyfriend Duke also plays a fairly large role as a marker sniffing, pistol wielding, truck driving, jealous boyfriend who runs over animals on the street with a devil-may-care attitude. At the beginning of the story, Jeannie is afraid to leave the trailer because the last time she went outside, twenty years ago, her baby got kidnapped and, even worse, she got a really bad haircut. Norbert, frustrated with this situation, has an affair with Pippi. After this, you are left to watch the situation boil over.
The action takes place with a cheerful, even celebratory atmosphere. The original production of the musical has been compared to South Park and to some extent the comparison works. Immoral acts and tragic events are depicted through zany song and dance numbers. However, South Park eventually settles into some form of moral statement, even if it is something a bit askew. GATPM never distinguishes between right and wrong. It’s an unhesitating, hedonistic glorification of human folly, much like the talk shows it lampoons during one of its numbers.
This friendly sign greets you when you first enter the theater, welcoming you to the trailer park that is the setting of the musical.
The Gaslight’s production of GATPM was done very well. During the rehearsal, there were a few problems with the set and costuming, which were probably fixed by opening night, but the music and choreography were phenomenal. During one number, Pippi’s boyfriend is depicted driving a truck while swerving and hitting a number of animals. The three members of the chorus back him up with their singing and move him around while carrying flashlights in such a way that the audience gets a distinct image of a truck driving down the road and swerving almost out of control. During another song “Great American Tv Show” a whole Jerry Springer-like production is set up and acted out during a dream sequence. The quality of these performances makes the production seem grander and more over-the-top then you might think such a small, intimate stage would allow.
The Gaslight also uses a live band, led by Nathan Brown. The musicians do an amazing job. Productions with recorded music can work, but they sometimes seem bland and antiseptic. Even if nothing else about the musical appeals, it’s worth it for the band and their music. It makes for a warmer and more energetic experience.
Everyone in the cast did well with their roles. Emma Jordan, who plays Pickles, gives her role a delightful effervescence that livens up the whole production. Jenny Norris-Light, who plays Pippi, also does a remarkable job being comically seductive, a task that requires a fair amount of balance. Jama Bowen and Alan Lee, who play Jeannie and Norbert, hold up the center of the cast admirably well. Chris Egging shows great physicality in his role as Duke. Margie Mills gives her character of Linoleum a good deal of brass that works nicely for her. Last, but not least, Paula Makar does probably the most amount of costume changes of the cast as Betty, and actually plays a number of different characters throughout the production, making each one believable even while allowing them to be larger than life.
The Great American Trailer Park Musical may not be for everyone, but the Gaslight Theater does a remarkable job with it. At the very least, it will definitely be something you’ll want to talk about with whomever you see it with.