"The Great American Trailer Park Musical," a bawdy but delightfully silly celebration of white trash shenanigans in a Florida "manufactured home community," is the first book musical for Cabaret Oldtown in quite a while, and it's a welcome return to story lines and plot twists.
To be sure, the intimate theater has thoroughly entertained audiences with a number of original musical revues, often built around the distinctive songs of a particular era, and presented in a plot-free, jukebox format. Those shows relied on the performers' personalities rather than characterization. They also rolled along on quips and spontaneous banter rather than dialogue.
With this treat, Cabaret Oldtown proves that it hasn't lost its acting finesse. Director Christi Moore and her cast easily find the snicker, chuckle or belly laugh in every line. They play it broadly, as befits this brash satire from David Nehls (music and lyrics) and Betsy Kelso (book) that took off-Broadway by surprise about five years ago. One slight warning: There are bits of adult language but you'll probably be laughing too hard to be offended.
The story is told by a busy-body widow named Betty, who inherited running the trailer park when her husband died, and her two best friends, who spend their days lounging in lawn chairs and commenting on the world going by their front doors. All three act as a blue-collar Greek chorus in describing the lives, loves and quirks on "This Side of the Tracks."
Angela Geer is dynamite as Betty, playing her as a cross between den mother, queen bee and mother superior. Her powerful voice is suited for belting and growling out Nehls' often country-flavored tunes. Teri Adams is Lin (short for Linoleum because she was born on the kitchen floor) and Kaye Brownlee is Pickles (so-called because she is prone to hysterical pregnancies), and both provide solid — and hilarious — support to Betty. Lin's hubby is on death row while Pickles' guy is lurking in the closet.
Their little world is turned upside down when a stripper named Pippi (played by director Moore) moves into the park to hide from a crazy boyfriend named Duke (Nick Probst), who is perpetually high from sniffing fumes from permanent markers. Pippi finds a friend in lonely Norbert (Dennis Arnold), whose wife, Jeannie (Cynthia Atchison), refuses to step outside since she misplaced their baby boy 20 years earlier. And while Pippi and Norbert don't have cheatin' on their minds, their mutual support threatens to blossom into something gossip-worthy.
Most of the songs are played for laughs, such as "It Doesn't Take a Genius," "Flushed Down the Pipes" or "The Great American TV Show." The words are clever but sometimes hard to understand when actors let their comic accents get in the way of clarity.
But there are also a couple of lovely ballads, notably "You Are the Owner of My Heart" by Atchison and later in a duet with Arnold, that come through beautifully and add genuine heart and a little dramatic depth.
The set designed by Mark Leslie and Monte Wheeler, which consists of two trailers that unfold to allow us to see occasional scenes inside, is the largest and most complex in memory on Cabaret's stage. And Wheeler's very colorful costumes and numerous wigs capture the gaudy spirit and spunk of the show.
If you go
"the Great American Trailer Park Musical"
What: Musical comedy celebrating Southern white trash culture
Where: Cabaret Oldtown, 412 1/2 E. Douglas
When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday through Sept. 25.
Tickets: $18; drinks and hors d'oerves available. Call 316-265-4400.