Sex and songs feature in Hart House Theatre’s season opener, The Great American Trailer Park Musical, as it invites the audience to witness the hilarity of the residents’ lives in Armadillo Acres. Complete with pink flamingos, Cheetos, beer, and a whole lot of conversatin’, the cast members use their incredible vocal abilities to humorously explore the unusual happenings in this Florida trailer park.
Based on the book by Betsy Kelso and directed by Will O’Hare, the play begins with three women suntanning, legs spread before the audience. Narrators Betty (Saphire Demitro), Lin (Jennifer Morris), and Pickles (Sarite Harris) welcome you with open arms. As a guest in their happy little trailer park, you are introduced to Norbert Garstecki (James R. Woods), the hard-working tollbooth attendant and his agoraphobic wife Jeannie (Janice Hawke). The couple was a perfect match when they met back in the ’80s, but a series of unfortunate events have taken their toll.
With their 20th anniversary fast approaching, Norbert hopes that Jeannie will finally come out of the trailer so they can celebrate with a night out at the Ice Capades—an opportunity that excites the girls since, as Lin reminds us, “It just ain’t entertainment unless it’s on ice.” Will Jeannie make it out on time to make it to the show? Enter Pippi (Kelly McCormack), the fast-talking, fast-moving stripper on the run from her eccentric, gun-toting, marker-sniffing boyfriend Duke (Justin Bott).
Her arrival draws the attention of all the residents, particularly that of Norbert, and their interactions will keep you laughing throughout. The competing storylines, such as Jeannie’s goal to conquer her fears, the love triangle of Jeannie, Norbert, and Pippi, and Duke’s fast approach, will keep you engaged and wondering.
Vocal talent abounds in this musical. Though the lyrics to some of the songs lack originality and it’s sometimes difficult to hear exactly what’s being sung, the vocal range of each member makes up for this shortfall. In this way, the seven-member cast seems to take on the duties of a much larger production. Set design and costumes are great; the leopard skin pantsuits, “Frankie Says Relax” shirts, and colourful trailers effectively merge the nostalgic ’80s with contemporary attitudes.
Musically, the show blends a number of different genres, including but not limited to R&B, country, and rockabilly. This eclectic selection ensures that no matter what your preference, there is more than one musical act that will satisfy your taste.
Despite the overt humour of the musical, it also touches on some serious issues. You may miss some of them if you do not pay attention, but the musical subtly explores the effects of love and loss, particularly evident in Janice Hawke’s character. Still struggling to recover from a traumatic experience long ago, Jeannie is the very real product of shattered love and painful loss. She evokes sympathy throughout without coming across as pathetically feeble. Everything seems to conspire against her, and throughout the musical you cannot help but hope everything works out for her. Unfortunately, some of these genuine feelings lose their legitimacy as they are filtered through stereotypical characters. As far as it goes, the production is original in thought, but it forces you to wonder what could have been had it sought to delve deeper into each character. Regardless, with all the crotch-thrusting and funny quips, you may be too busy laughing to care. At the end of the day, that is what a good night out is all about—and on that count the musical surely delivers.
The Great American Trailer Park Musical runs until October 8 at Hart House Theatre on the St. George campus. Tickets are $15 for students and seniors ($10 on Wednesday nights) and $25 for adults.