Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cincinnati

The Great American Trailer Park Musical

Deb G. Girdler, Gina Valentine and Sara Mackie
Audiences might expect a show with a title of The Great American Trailer Park Musical to be unsophisticated and slight, but funny. If they're seeing the production currently staged by Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati (ETC), that's just what they'll get. ETC supplies its usual assets of excellent design, a strong cast, and worthwhile direction, but even that can't overcome the fact that the show seems like an extended musical sketch (albeit one with lots of laughs).

The Great American Trailer Park Musical introduces audiences to the denizens of a north Florida mobile home park (Armadillo Acres), with their issues and personalities closely resembling that usually found on The Jerry Springer Show. Central to the plot is Jeannie, who hasn't stepped outside her trailer in nearly twenty years, and her husband Norbert. A trio of white trash neighbors serves as a Greek chorus providing narration about Norbert's affair with his new neighbor, a hot young stripper named Pippi, and the chaos that then ensues.

The book by Betsy Kelso provides intentionally stereotypical characters, broad humor, and a predicable ending. The comedy is hit or miss, with lots of very funny one-liners mixed with some duds. It's a funny conceit, but extending it to 90 minutes seems like a stretch at times. The music and lyrics by David Nehls is likewise a mixed bag. The lyrics are quite witty and laugh-out-loud hilarious at times (especially the song "Panic"), but there are too many false rhymes for musical theater purists. The music is less distinguished, with only a few numbers ("This Side of the Tracks," "Flushed Down The Pipes," "But He's Mine / It's Never Easy") rising above serviceable.

Broadway vet Jessica Hendy heads the cast as Jeannie, and uses her strong vocals to knock some power ballads out of the theater, to audience acclaim. Allen Kendall provides depth to the role of cheating husband Norbert. Current CCM student Ashley Kate Adams exudes the sexuality expected of exotic dancer Pippi, and demonstrates a powerful singing voice. Deb G. Girdler (Betty), Gina Valentine (Pickles) and Sara Mackie (Linoleum) are fun and funny as the Greek chorus of nosy neighbors, with Ms. Girdler supplying an especially praiseworthy turn. As Duke, Pippi's revengeful ex-boyfriend, Nick Cearley captures the high camp qualities of the role with skill.

CCM's Aubrey Berg directs the piece with a sure hand, providing clear staging and blocking, and smooth transitions. However, some of the humor doesn't land as well as it could have (at least on opening night), but that may just be a matter of the cast needing a few performances to fine tune their timing. The choreography by Patti James is lively and apt. Scott Wooley serves as Musical Director, and Steve Goers leads the energetic four piece band.

Scenic and Lighting Designer Brian C. Mehring has done a wonderful job of creating an appropriately tacky setting for the show (no doubt with the help of Assistant Shannon Rae Lutz). The nicely detailed set features plastic flamingos, indoor/outdoor AstroTurf, worn aluminum siding on the trailers, and every type of cheap knick-knack imaginable. The lighting includes strings of Christmas lights left out year-round and a fun dream sequence effect. Reba Senske's costumes are well-suited to the show as well.

Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati gives this show as strong a production that one can hope, but it's difficult to make much out of a musical with so little depth, so many corny jokes, and so few memorable songs. This production will likely entertain most audience members, thanks to ETC's efforts, but it's hard not to wonder what they could have achieved with better material. The Great American Trailer Park runs through May 18, 2008, and then takes a hiatus before resuming performances again from June 11 —22, 2008. Visit or call 513-421-3555 for more information and tickets.

-- Scott Cain

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