The new Christmas sequel to the earthy, often hilarious “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” doesn’t quite have the quirky, heartwarming charm of the original, which ultimately reunited a reclusive, depressed mother with the son she “misplaced” as an infant 20 years before.
But it does have a lot of raunchy, blue collar laughs as the residents of Florida’s Armadillo Acres – manufactured home community, please note, not trailer park – try to win a prize for holiday decorations that they hope can be seen from space, despite the foot-dragging of the neighborhood Grinch.
The holiday spirit is so strong, one of the characters boasts, that even the meth lab in slot 23 is cooking ham instead of drugs.
The 2013 show with music/lyrics by David Nehls and book by Betsy Kelso, is a Wichita premiere at Roxy’s Downtown, where the original played in 2010 (when the theater was Cabaret Oldtown). This new one is a mash-up of ideas from wildly disparate sources, drawing from the three ghosts of “A Christmas Carol,” the singing, slinking Greek chorus of “Little Shop of Horrors” and the evil spirit of either “Poltergeist” or “The Evil Dead.”
Most of the elements are outlandish window-dressing for a basically simple story revealing why the resident naysayer hates Christmas and whether she can be redeemed like Scrooge.
Stephanie Hug plays that Scrooge – actually Darlene – who warns her holiday-happy neighbors not to let their glitter, tinsel, ornaments and fun spill over into her yard. A large evergreen on the property line is bare on her side, but loaded with cheer on the other.
But when, in a fit of pique, Darlene tries to unplug the tree, she gets a shock that results in amnesia and turns her into a nice person. Can the other residents keep her from remembering her terrible self until after the holidays?
Hug is making her Roxy’s debut after stints at the Forum, Wichita Community Theatre and Crown Uptown, where she was nominated for a Teall Award for “Little Women.” She has a rich, strong voice that is lovely in ballads, such as her nostalgic “My Christmas Tin Toy Boy” and a semi-romantic duet, “Christmas Memories,” with her neighbor, Rufus, played by Kyle Vespestad (who also directs and choreographs).
Vespestad, a longtime favorite at Roxy’s and its previous incarnation as Cabaret Oldtown, has a knack for playing likable, often klutzy, goofballs. His redneck, jack-of-all-minimum-wage-trades Rufus is a delightful doofus, but one with heart. Vespestad has a good singing voice, but he sacrifices a lot of quality and precision for comic appeal, particularly his Act I closer (whose title is unprintable in a family newspaper) about not letting anything get in the way of his Christmas spirit.
That happens with other characters, too. The clever, tongue-in-cheek lyrics are sometimes obscured by exaggerated Southern accents.
Paula Makar as Betty, Kelly Wonsetler as Lin (short for linoleum because she was born on the kitchen floor) and Molly Tully as Pickles (so nicknamed for her cravings during pregnancy) are neighbors who act as a de facto Greek Chorus, holding court in their lawn chairs and gossiping about the problems of the world, including the so-called Christmas Curse of Armadillo Acres, which always seems to mess up their holiday.
Makar is the ringleader, playing Betty as a sassy, brassy lady somewhere between queen bee and mother superior, stalking the stage in a platinum bubble wig and toreador pants. She is loud, wisecracking, swaggering and hilarious.
Wonsetler, with mounds of red curls cascading over her shoulders, is Betty’s sort of sergeant at arms in Daisy Duke shorts and leopard print top. Wonsetler plays the shallow, easy-going Lin with a wonderful, wide-eyed amiability.
And Tully, in pig tails that make her look about 12, gives single mom Pickles a winsome sweetness as well as a dogged optimism to still believe in Santa Claus. She’s fearless even when she has no idea what’s going on.
The three also take a variety of small roles, from the ghosts who visit Scroogish Darlene to the waitresses at a local restaurant called Stacks, a pancake joint somewhere between IHOP and Hooters. Their waitress uniforms provide the single biggest laugh in the show.
“The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical”
What: Holiday sequel to 2005 off-Broadway musical about eccentric residents of a Florida mobile home community
Where: Roxy’s Downtown, 412½ E. Douglas (upstairs)
When: 8 p.m. (dinner 6:45) Wednesday-Saturday, 7 p.m. (dinner 5:45) Sunday through Dec. 26 (no Christmas Eve or Christmas Day shows)
Tickets: $15 dinner, $25 show, 316-265-4400