The Great American Trailer Park Musical (Dare to Defy Productions – Dayton, OH)

Trailer parks get a bad rap. I’m not saying a lot of the stereotypes aren’t true (there’s often a kernel of truth in such preconceived notions, though often warped), but I’m sure that there are plenty of kind, sane, and peaceful people that live in double wides. Fortunately, none of those people are in Dare to Defy Productions’ The Great American Trailer Park Musical, a rollicking indictment against the inhabitants of a trailer park where life is a soap opera but with bigger hair and more makeup.

The Great American Trailer Park Musical, with music and lyrics by David Nehls and a book by Betsy Kelso, ran for a few months off-Broadway in the fall of 2005; since then it’s become a favorite of regional and non-professional groups across the country looking for a musical more contemporary than the usual stalwarts of West Side Story and Annie. Set in Armadillo Acres, a trailer park in Starke, Florida, the story focuses on Norbert, a toll collector, and his agoraphobic wife, Jeanne, and how their lives are turned upside down when bad girl stripper Pippi becomes one of their neighbors; little does everyone know that Pippi is on the run from a crazy ex-boyfriend who is hot on her trail. Did I mention that some of the other residents are named Linoleum and Pickles? 

 

Photo: Matthew Smith
 
There isn’t a bad performance in the show, with special recognition earned by Tia Seay, Lisa Glover, and Angie Thacker. Ms. Seay really whoops it up as Betty, the queen bee and manager of the trailer park, her strong and bold voice a pleasure to enjoy as she comments on the action of the residents. Lisa Glover is similarly fearless as Pippi, the stripper without a heart of gold; she and Ms. Seay hit the fiercest notes and wear the tackiest clothing without fear. Ms. Thacker’s Jeannie is the only character with any deep pathos in the play, so it’s only natural that she doesn’t come off as comical as everyone around her; what’s unnatural is the unexpected sweetness of her singing voice, clear and with vulnerability that is disarming.

Rob Willoughby (who also plays the befuddled Norbert with prickly grit) has outdone himself in designing the set for Armadillo Acres in such a small space. The trailer facades are colorful and functional, especially the way the large picture window of Norbert and Jeannie’s trailer allows us to see directly into their home and glimpse the funny photos on display and odd furniture. A sign in the rear rotates when the location changes to “The Litter Box Show Palace,” the strip club where Pippi (Lisa Glover) works, and Jason Vogel’s lighting changes accordingly to perfectly fit the shift.

 

Photo: Matthew Smith
 
Director Matthew Smith stages and moves the actors quite specifically so that they don’t feel like they are on top of each other or in each other’s way, a definite problem that has been sidestepped in working in what could be seen as quite a cramped space. The only time when the presentation falters is when action is blocked by the first few rows of the audience when activity takes place too far downstage to the right, namely during Ms. Glover’s dance routine in which she motorboats Ms. Seay and walks away with lipstick marks around her décolleté. It’s a bold moment where Ms. Glover really goes for it, but I wonder if it was obscured for a lot of the audience (it was partially hidden where I was sitting) because it wasn’t being performed on some sort of raised platform.

The Great American Trailer Park Musical is intended to be performed in two acts, but this production is presented with no break for around an hour and forty minutes. The limited stadium seating and the closeness of the set and actors to the audience makes this a wise decision as any stragglers would have to walk through the action to get to their seat, a difficult interruption of the all-important fourth wall. This approach also helps the play keep up a certain momentum that would be less effective with a break. So remember – get your potty break in before the show, and know that there will be no late seating! 

 

Photo: Matthew Smith
 
My friend and I enjoyed Dare to Defy’s The Great American Trailer Park Musical, but our laughter was no match for all the giggles heard all around us. The show isn’t deep, keeping its comedy very much on the surface, and that’s just the way it is played here. I’ve seen the show before, and yet somehow a few of the plot twists still threw me this time around! Some of the language and situations push this into PG-13 terrain, but I’d still consider it a fun show for families with teens. In fact, it’s irreverent shows like The Great American Trailer Park Musical that may connect with younger audiences wanting to look beyond the typically “safe” plays performed at their schools. If having a restaurant named “Grits and Tits” offends you, stay home; if, like me, you find it funny, get a ticket before they’re all gone.

*** out of ****

The Great American Trailer Park Musical continues through to January 16th in the Mathile Theatre at the Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center located on West 2nd Street in downtown Dayton (about an hour outside of Columbus), and more information can be found at http://www.d2defy.com/

  

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Godspell (Dare to Defy Productions – Dayton, OH)

I first saw Godspell twenty years ago; I was in high school in Ashland, KY, and it was a community college production so awful that I was turned off from seeing any theatre for years. The lyrics were drowned out by the music, the actors ran through the aisles of the auditorium in an effort to engage the audience, and I couldn’t follow what was going on at all. Ever since then, even though I now love musical theatre and particularly the works of Stephen Schwartz, the mention of Godspell is enough to make me groan. All of this leads me to Dare to Defy Productions and their staging of this show now running in Dayton, and I figured it was time to give it another chance.

Godspell premiered off-Broadway in 1971, ran five years, then transferred to Broadway and ran well over another year. With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by John Michael Tebelak, the show is comprised of Bible stories from the Gospel of Matthew and Luke, each with some lesson to impart as guided by Jesus to his flock of hippies (depending on the production). The show spawned an average film adaptation in 1973 and a hit single (“Day by Day”), and it has gone on to be a popular property in community theatres across the country. It is predated chronologically ever so slightly by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar, another rock/Broadway interpretation of The Bible with a score close to my heart. Is it possible to like both Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar? If I were to pick one, it’s definitely the latter, no question. Still, Dare to Defy’s production has some very good qualities for fans of Godspell.

 

Photo: Laura Dell (19/19 Photography)
 
Director Becki Norgaard guides a lively, diverse, and vocally gifted cast around the intimate performing space of the Mathile Theatre, assisted by a terrific band and sound design. If there was ever a production that could help me see more of the joy within Godspell, this is it. The show moves quickly, running just around two hours with an intermission, and there are humorous moments when the cast engages some audience members in the action. I’m not quite sure why M&M’s and wine are served at the last supper, but why not? There is a funky vibe to this production that is welcoming, even if it doesn’t make me a believer in the material.

So charismatic and honest is Bobby Mitchum as Jesus that I didn’t recognize him from his role as Cinderella’s Prince in Dare to Defy’s Into the Woods just last month! It’s not that he looked so completely different or anything (though he is one of those rare guys that can pull off wearing white jeans); it’s that his energy is transformative, a far cry from the haughty and spoiled part he played in the other show. The fact that Mr. Mitchum is so good in both quite different roles goes to demonstrate his versatility.

Photo: Georgia Cheliotis

Kudos are also due to Tia Seay as a member of the ensemble, careful to blend in through much of the first act before pulverizing everyone with her solo; then Ms. Seay gracefully steps aside to make sure her cast mates each get their moments to shine as well. Grant Warden in the ensemble also stood out to me in “Light of the World,” his big act one closing number. Mr. Warden is open to being as goofy and unabashedly joyous as the song requires, not letting his matinee idol looks get in the way. 

Did this production revise my opinion of Godspell? Well, no, it didn’t, even though the cast is energetic and the plot more discernible to me now than it was on my last experience with the show. I’ve come to the conclusion that I just don’t like the music or the play, but that’s no fault of the talented performers in this production (I can’t say the same of the one I saw in high school). There is a preachy component in the material that doesn’t work for me, but that is the same element that the friend I attended this production with appreciated and enjoyed. She also saw and liked the 2011 Broadway revival. The audience was really into Dare to Defy’s production, and they were quick to give a standing ovation as soon as the lights came on. I can recognize that this is a beloved musical and that this production has a talented cast, but Godspell just isn’t for me.

If you like the play and music: *** out of ****

If, like me, you don’t like the play or music: ** out of ****

Godspell continues through to October 24th in the Mathile Theatre at the Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center located on West 2nd Street in downtown Dayton (about an hour outside of Columbus), and more information can be found at http://www.d2defy.com/godspell-flyer/