Dallas — The hip-swinging gals with the double-wide smiles in The Great American Trailer Park Musical, a raunchy, playful spoof with songs by David Nehls and book by Betsy Kelso, wouldn’t set foot in the seamy, drug-sharing trailer park where Matthew McConaughey’s hard-living rodeo cowboy spent his groggy nights in last year’s award-winning film The Dallas Buyers Club. Hell no, y’all. Not in this show!
The tanned-or-be-damned tootsies that inhabit Armadillo Acres Trailer Park, convincingly recreated by Kaori Imani’s set at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, are truly Good Ol' Girls. They’re proud of their trailerhood, loyal to each other, and, to a woman, prepared to stand by her flan (not a typo) or her man. So what if he’s on death row, gets high sniffing Sharpies, or is some other GOG’s hubby? Hey, sex just sorta happens spontaneously when you live on top of each other in a small space all heated up with Florida sunshine. Still, you better not call anybody “white trash” in this mobile homeland.
“I do not work on my tan 365 days of the year to be called white anything,” declares one mobile homeowner, her open-pizza-box tanning screen in hand.
Closer is funnier when you’re talking trailer humor—and the audience at CTD is nearly close enough to turn the aluminum handle on the door in this production. Directed with bawdy good humor and a touch of crass by Michael Serrecchia, the crackerjack (oops) cast have big voices and the comic pizzazz to infuse the show’s stereotypical characters with the amps to wring laughs from sometimes worn jokes about rednecks and their penchant for marrying cousins, getting hooked on tabloid TV shows and sniffing anything that comes in a spray can.
Adultery raises its customary plot-generating head, and in Armadillo Acres, everybody starts singing. Nice guy tollbooth attendant Norbert (burly, full-voiced Ben Phillips) adores his loving but agoraphobic wife Jeannie (a pretty pouty Mary Gilbreath Grim, delivering heartbreaky songs in a rich soprano voice).
So when a hot tramp moves in down the row, he’s easy pickings. Pippi (voluptuous, dark-maned Grace Neely) is a stripper on the run from her gun-crazy boyfriend, Duke (a wired Andy Baldwin making ordinary manic look like a snooze in a La-Z Boy.) Something’s gotta give—and not everything’s elastic in this show.
The 10-year-old off-Broadway hit has toured internationally and is regularly produced in regional theaters. Five of CTD’s sizzling cast members have played their parts in at least one of the earlier productions in the Metroplex, including at Fort Worth’s Circle Theatre (2010) and Addison's WaterTower Theatre in 2007, as well as WaterTower’s 2014 production of the Christmas-themed sequel.
The tale-telling chorus just completed their run of the sequel in Addison, and here they once again tell it like it is when Pippi shows up: “Like a bitch in heat, she’s lookin' for meat,” they concur.
Sara Shelby Martin is back as Betty, the seen-it-all, gossip-grounded widow and park owner; Cara Statham Serber is still blonde, long-legged and bold-hearted as Lin (short for Linoleum, the floor upon which she was conceived); and hilarious Megan Kelly Bates is as cute and clueless as ever as Pickles, a big-eyed flake suffering from hysterical pregnancy. You’d think this talented trio barely had time to wash their hot pants and untangle their big hair, but these Diehard divas are still firing better than ever, especially on big ensemble songs like “This Side of the Tracks” and in a wildly funny rendition of "It’s Raining Men” where they vamp around in drag with black lights and wild wigs.
Grace Neely reprises her role as Pippi from the 2010 Fort Worth production, and heats up the house with flashing eyes and a big mezzo voice in “The Buck Stops Here,” as she straddles the stripper’s pole and stuffs the bills into her ample bra. Norbert doesn’t stand a chance.
Scene-stealer Andy Baldwin, reprising his role from both WaterTower and Circle, is side-splittingly funny as the strungout Duke, his thin, muscled body taunt as a whip as he tears around the stage in his wheeled office chair, sniffing a fistful of colored markers and smirking knowingly at a man in the front row.
Imani’s sturdy set features three trailer fronts and a central trailer that revolves on the proscenium stage to reveal a slice of the domestic life that goes on inside its small boundaries, including a prominent TV. As Norbert says, “Knick-knacks is what makes a trailer home.”
Michael Robinson’s costumes are bright and campy and he goes all out on the splashy production numbers with stretchy fabrics and glitter to spare. The girls look fine in all the outfits, and comfortable enough to do the group moves choreographed by Bates.
Musical director Cody Dry and his four-man band provide a smooth accompaniment, from rockabilly to R&B, for this energetic first-rate cast. You have to cheer for an ensemble that delivers a finale with a wailing metaphor like “I’m Gonna Make Like a Nail and Press On.”
That says it all about these pros.