Walking into the Tower Grove Abbey, the resident home of Stray Dog Theatre, one might expect to find stained glass windows and pews typical of such a sanctuary. This assumption would be correct but there’s a lot more inside. Adjacent to the iconography is a set presenting an ‘armadillo x-ing’ sign, lawn chairs, and an inside and outside view of the trailers taking up residence in Armadillo Acres- the location of ‘The Great American Trailer Park Musical’. It’s a bit strange to see something categorized as holy housing something so admittedly trashy but as Pickles, a character of the show, sings, ‘What you see ain’t always what you get’.
The show plays into the redneck stereotypes with loud, tacky costumes, accents that sound native to the south or the land of the stupid (wherever that is), and crass humor. These are the types of characters that wouldn’t know if the audience is laughing at or with them, and wouldn’t give a hoot either way. Kim Furlow was particularly enjoyable as Betty with brassy vocals and expert comedic timing. The delivery of each line felt like a conversation with a friend rather than a scripted joke, adding charm without a sense of falsehood, unlike the apparent spray tan. The writing of the songs was a bit mundane in the early parts of the show, but perhaps this is appropriate as it sets up the characters as none-too-glib or with particularly mature priorities. We learn that the state of a perm is more important than one’s baby being kidnapped by someone looking suspiciously close to the Hamburglar. The show begins to pick up with clever lyrics in ‘The Buck stops here’. It is unclear in a few moments if the dancing was supposed to be occasionally off-beat with almost-always stale choreography, whereas some numbers truly embraced the bad. It worked either way, adding a little foolishness for the sake of funny. Costuming throughout the production from Alexandra Scibetta Quigley brilliantly added character development and comedy. Especially memorable were the toilet brush dresses complete with props and the sequined outfits with footwear complementary to each individual’s role; a flip-flop here, a sneaker there. Shine on Alexandra, you crazy cubic zirconium.
The music and lyrics by David Nehls and book by Betsy Kelso reveal themselves to be great as conflict escalades from the mix of ridiculous and relatable problems, all handled with humor and not a shred of grace. What seems like a light-hearted and fluffy show could be pretty bad and boring if not done well. Fortunately, the audience was able to sit in on the fun of watching their troubles unfold without the integrity of the theatre going out like a dropped ‘g’ on word endin’s.
There is something sweet about it, every character was likeable, even the trashy stripper. Perhaps it is human to forge connections based on pain and bad circumstances, bad relationships. Haven’t we all had a bad day (or decade) at some point? Luckily, due to the direction and performances, we weren’t having a bad time.
There’s something more than overalls to every average looking Joe- dreams, a past, struggles, hidden talents. No one demonstrated this more than Lindsey Jones as Jeannie the agoraphobic who might seem like the biggest train wreck of them all, the least in charge of her destiny and choices, but offered powerhouse vocals (or should I say power trailer vocals?) especially notable in ‘Panic’. Across the board, beautiful voices came shining through the hee-haw accents and quirky characteristics, showing something intrinsically beautiful amidst a lot of clutter in the forms of knick-knacks, fears, or questionable choices of wardrobe and occupation. An unexpected twist provided the happy ending we all wanted after watching pretty much everyone fall apart, and pick themselves back up. There is something universal and uplifting about the ideal of progress. It isn’t necessary to have to rip off badly applied fake nails to know what it’s like to want a fresh start. It isn’t always the high and mighty that inspire, there is treasure in the trash as well.
All of the elements of a classic musical are present but this is, from setting to score to performance, a unique experience of trash and treasure all rolled into one. Call it the gourmet hot dog of a musical experience.
The Great American Trailer Park Musical will play until August 18th with shows Thursday- Saturday. Find information about Stray Dog Theatre’s exciting upcoming tenth season here and reserve your tickets for the end of this hot summer and hot show at the Tower Grove Abbey, or as Pippi might say, give new meaning to the phrase ‘sweat like a you-know-what’ in church.