When the harsh realities of life (like, say, political polarization and a deadly pandemic) become overwhelming, the theater can be a great place to escape. An engaging story, a few laughs and some toe-tapping music can be a perfect remedy—and Desert Rose Playhouse’s production of The Great American Trailer Park Musical is just the ticket.
The show—with music and lyrics by David Nehls, and book by Betsy Kelso—opened Off-Broadway in September 2005 and ran for 121 performances.
The story is narrated by three “ladies” of the Armadillo Acres Trailer Park in Florida: Lin (short for Linoleum), Betty and Pickles. They are each played brilliantly here by actors in drag. Betty (Robbie Wayne) is the ringleader and keeps everything moving along. Lin (Ben Reece) is the wife of a prisoner on death row, and the not-too-bright Pickles (Anthony Nannini) is hysterically pregnant. Other residents at the park include agoraphobic Jeannie (Christine Tringali Nunes), who hasn’t left her trailer since her infant son was kidnapped decades ago, and her long-suffering husband, Norbert (Michael Pacas).
Things really get crazy when exotic dancer Pippi (Emily Rose Unnasch) shows up. She’s on the run from her marker-sniffing ex-boyfriend (Cameron Keys). Frustrated with his wife’s refusal to step out into the real world, Norbert begins an affair with street-smart Pippi.
To reveal more of the plot wouldn’t be fair. Let’s just say that hilarity and chaos ensue.
Director Robbie Wayne has assembled a stellar cast and brings out the best in them. This is quite an accomplishment when you consider that he also plays the pivotal role of Betty—to perfection. Wayne sets the tone from the second the curtain goes up, when he belts out the opening lines of “This Side of the Tracks.” He’s got an amazing set of pipes and excellent comic timing—and he looks fabulous in drag.
Reece is terrific as Lin, who spends much of the show trying to keep her prisoner husband from being electrocuted. Nannini is a hoot and quite touching as Pickles, who can’t stop talking about the (fantasy) baby she’s carrying.
As the neurotic Jeannie, Tringali Nunes is spot on. She makes Jeannie’s pain at her husband’s betrayal and here terror of the world outside her trailer ring true. Michael Pacas brings out Norbert’s vulnerability and manages to make him likable, even though he cheats on his wife. Their duet, “Owner of My Heart,” is fabulous.
Unnasch’s portrayal of the worldly-wise Pippi is marvelous. Strutting around the stage in short-shorts, this girl clearly knows how to get what she wants. Her big dance number, “The Buck Stops Here,” is one of the show’s highlights. However, there were a few moments in the show when her lines were difficult to hear.
As the slightly unhinged Duke, Keys’ propensity to rack up road kill and his addiction to chemical fumes garner some great laughs.
The musical numbers are all excellent, thanks to the actors’ strong vocal skills and the musical direction by Jaci Davis. The superb live band backstage is a huge plus. The sets, lighting and sound are all top-notch, and the costumes and wigs for the trailer park “ladies” deserve special mention.
If you have not been to Desert Rose Playhouse’s new location, in the old Zelda’s building on Palm Canyon Drive, you owe it to yourself to check it out. Robbie Wayne and managing director Matthew McLean have done an incredible job of renovating the space, transforming it into a combination of a theater and a New York cabaret room, with cocktail service before and after the show.
If you could use a break from the real world for a couple of hours, check out The Great American Trailer Park Musical. The cast is clearly having a ball—and you will, too.
The Great American Trailer Park Musical will be performed at 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Aug. 8, at the Desert Rose Playhouse, 611 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Suite 16. Tickets are $34-$37; high-top tables (for four) or VIP couches (for two or three) are $175. For tickets or more information, visit desertroseplayhouse.org.