The less than salubrious surroundings of the North Florida trailer park Armadillo Acres (few armadillos and even fewer acres) might seem like the ideal location for a madcap musical and in some ways, you’d be right. And The Great American Trailer Park Musical certainly lives up to the madcap and the musical in this knowingly camp production by Kirk Jameson – it’s just the ‘great’ that feels somewhat in doubt.
There’s no questioning the quality of the production and its brilliant casting decisions. Tempting the likes of illustrious veteran Rosie Ashe to the fringe is no mean feat and the powerhouse pipes of the severely under-rated Sabrina Aloueche is all the more impressive in the intimate (if poorly raked) Waterloo East Theatre. In fact, the whole company sing very well, their assured vocals matched by James Taylor’s musical direction.
Playing up the clichéd notions of trailer trash, Betsy Kelso’s book follows the love triangle that emerges for the Paula Abdul-loving Norbert who finds himself torn between agoraphobic wife Jeanie, still mourning the kidnapping of their son 20 years ago, and newly-arrived Pippi, a stripper with a past (as if there were any other kind). But the thinness of both characters and plot means that trashy and silly just aren’t enough on their own.
There’s no exploration of stereotype to give dramatic heft, or satirical bite to add substance to the humour, and thus David Nehls’ score has to work doubly hard. But even here, there’s a strange decision to veer between direct pastiche (essentially rewrites of songs like ‘Nutbush City Limits’ and ‘It’s Raining Men’) and passable pop which offer ample opportunity for the women of the cast to belt but little else besides, which ends up quite wearying – voices this good deserve variety.
The Greek chorus of Ashe, Michelle Bishop and Jodie Steele offer some welcome comic relief as they transform from neighbours to strip club punters to umbrella-wielding backing dancers and back, Anna Kelsey’s set design is impressively well-realised and Adam Vaughan and Josh Dever do the men of the piece proud. But it’s hard to shake the abiding mocking feeling of The Great American Trailer Park Musical, a slice of Southern-fried stereotype leaves a funny taste in the mouth.