A scene from 'The Great American Trailer Park Musical' at Oregon Stage Works.

Review: 'Trailer Park' is more fun than a yard full of old cars

"The Great American Trailer Park Musical" is what you'd get if you cast "The Simple Life" with guests from Jerry Springer. There's a trailer park called Armadillo Acres, there are Pringles with spray cheese and Pabst Blue Ribbon, and there's a love triangle with a sex-starved toll booth worker, a pole dancer with a past and a magic marker-huffing ex-boyfriend.

"The Great American Trailer Park Musical" is about as far as you can get from the kind of heady play for which Ashland's Oregon Stage Works is best known. It's as aimless as a bug zapper and as sweet as imitation maple syrup.

With a book by Betsy Kelso and music and lyrics by David Nehls, the entertaining if inconsequential musical opened Thursday night to a full house at OSW, directed by longtime actor/director Peter Alzado in his first-ever go at directing musical comedy. Choreography is by Wendy Spurgeon. TGATPM is politically incorrect, untinged by any redeeming significance and just plain funny.

Betty (Tamara Marston), the big-haired landlady, introduces us to Armadillo Acres in Sparke, Fla., and fellow trailer trash Lin (Mia Chiaromonte), which is short for Linoleum, because she was born on the kitchen floor, and Pickles (Heather Harlan), who is suffering from her umpteenth hysterical pregnancy. "The Girls," as they are called, soon team up with Jeannie (Jennifer Millier-Brian), an agoraphobic housewife who hasn't left her trailer since 1983, her horny, toll-taking husband, Norbert (Joe Caron), and Pippi (Spurgeon), a stripper on the run.

The first number, "This Side of the Tracks," introduces us to the characters and the mobile home milieux brightly represented by Doug Ham's trash-chic set. You could think of The Girls as a sort of Greek chorus, commenting on the action in songs and hilarious, low-life repartee as the love-triangle story unfolds. They sing, dance, shoot naughty zingers and break the fourth wall so often it's obliterated.

What story there is goes like this: Norbert wants Jeannie to come out of the trailer for the couple's 20th anniversary to do something classy, like go to the Ice Capades. But for Jeannie, who hasn't ventured out since the couple's baby was kidnapped as an infant, reality is limited to Oprah and the world of daytime TV. Enter Pippi, fleeing ex-boyfriend Duke (J.R. Storment), and cue the cheatin' songs.

"Ah'm havin' a bad decade," Pippi says.

She picks up on Norbert as fast as Britney Spears checking in and out of rehab, creating the classic triangle of country song. Truth to tell, she's not getting any younger, and she's tired.

"Strippin's like an all-you-can-eat waffle bar," she says. "You have to know when to walk away."

Will Norbert fall for Pippi? Will Jeannie take him back? What will become of The Girls' hair when they swap redneck jeans and shorts for polyester for a cheesy, '70s disco number? Should Storment have a mullet? And is that pregnancy really hysterical?

TGATPM is mostly about the music, but it's also filled with lines like "I feel a dream sequence comin' on," "Sniffin' is a gateway to huffin'," and "Knick-knacks is what makes a trailer a home."

Musical highlights include "Storm's a Brewin'," the big disco number, "Flushed Down the Pipes," in which The Girls and Jeannie dance with toilet plungers, and the big finale, "Make Like a Nail" (and press on). The Girls belt out tight harmonies that sound more like The Andrew Sisters or The Chenilles than country singers, and boy howdy, can they sing.

When Duke finally enters, on Pippi's trail, in a rave-up number called "Road Kill," he has an automatic in his jeans and his drug of choice (magic markers; happiness is scoring your drugs at Costco) close at hand. There's a surprise you may see coming. But characterization is minimal, and these tissue-thin characters play to familiar stereotypes.

Entertainment based on such a treatment of working-class African-American stereotypes, say, or Hispanic stereotypes, would be pretty much unthinkable. I found myself wondering if white trailer-trash humor is OK. Best answer: It's affectionate, not mean. Still, that's what the creators of "Amos 'n' Andy" said.

Is TGATPM humor by and for people who shop at Macy's and about people who shop at Wal-Mart? I worried about this for 30 seconds or so until I got to laughing too hard.

The singing and dancing are sharp and effective, with a live band (piano, drums, guitars, bass) offstage. The show will play at OSW in Ashland through April 20, then move to the Cascade Theatre in Redding, Calif., for performances May 8, 9 and 10.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail

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