Get your permed platinum blonde bump and grind mojo on. Ft. Worth’s Circle Theatre and its trashy troupe of trailer park troubadours and trollops will learn ya how to scratch that darn itch real fine. I’m talking about the one that aches hard to have a grand ol’ time enjoying the rowdy, howdy-y’all hijinks and non-stop 80’s inspired tunes of The Great American Trailer Park Musical. No finer venue exists to watch trailer park trials and trysts portrayed through campy song and dance vignettes than Circle Theatre’s intimate thrust-style performance space. No mikes or opera glasses required. Under the experienced guidance of regional award-winning director Chris Robinson (last helmed Circle’s highly successful A Lone Star Christmas Carol) and Musical Director Hans Grim, Circle’s versatile cast of super-gulp sized talents will wow you with their vocal prowess, over the top ensemble antics and perfectly timed comic depictions throughout both acts.
Handsome hunks: Reprising his role (from WaterTower Theatre’s Out of the Loop Festival) as straying husband and mournful tollbooth worker Norbert, broad-shouldered, Jim Johnson of the noble visage fills the stage with warm-hearted aw shucks sincerity and charm. As silly as this show’s overall premise may be, you sense the universal, human “reality” of Norbert’s plight through Johnson’s genial portrayal, whether he’s singing the pensive love duet “Owner of My Heart” with wife Jeannie (Heatherton Hardy Wilson) or gyrating provocatively in afro wigged, hammy fashion in the 80’s send-up Act I finale “Storm’s A-Brewin’” with the full cast. You can’t hate a cheating heart this sweet for long. Andy Baldwin?
He’s the show’s sizzling hot dish, a raunchy “blue plate special”, combining in his tightly wound persona the zaniest energy of a one-man kazoo band, a red state Benny Hill and a magic-marker sniffing pit bull busted off his chain. Baldwin’s character Duke functions as the show’s madcap catalyst; this serious, multi-talented actor ekes the most out of every hilarious, x-rated moment he’s on stage. At the point the entire cast soaks him with strategically aimed water pistols, the audience may wish they could join in on the boorish baptism as well. Too bad it would ruin the theatre seat upholstery. Not hard to imagine that David Nehls and Betsy Kelso channeled Andy Baldwin when they wrote the Duke role. Baldwin also reprises his role from the earlier production….
Hankerin’ hussies: Fancy frothy, fetching pole dancing? Circle Theatre and Trailer Park virgin Grace Neely as “exotic” dancer Pippi is sure to make church ladies frown as she heats up the local trailer park dive shimmying for dollar bills on a clothesline pole stuck into a downstage concrete-filled truck tire.
Pure, innocent, scantily clad Pippi’s on the lam to escape wildly possessive Duke, and sashays into Armadillo Acres and right into the unsuspecting arms of hard up Norbert. Sully those satin sheets, by golly; it’s Jerry Springer meets Laugh-In. Not only is Neely a persuasive pole queen (how did she “research” her role?) she reveals a potent, bluesy singing voice with considerable range and excellent vocal control. Her brazen rendition of “The Buck Stops Here” with the other actresses dressed in male drag as the tongue-lolling admirers of her pole dance just about stops Act I in riotous tumult. It’s pee your pants funny. Neely makes an alluring sex kitten but clearly has both acting and singing chops for more substantial roles. Other bestial virgins at Circle and in this show include droll mistress of comic repartee Kayla Carlyle as dense, pregnant trailer park resident Pickles and Pippi’s home-girl best friend and flan salesperson (?) Donna and Mary Gilbreath Grim as tattooed Lin, who lounges lasciviously, lusting after her man Earl, doin’ time in the big house. Both actresses have solid singing voices and ‘flesh out’ the seedy shenanigans with well-defined zest. Carlyle’s dual roles afford her the opportunity to deliver some of the show’s funniest lines and zing its peak moments. There are times she goes tit for tat (or is it tit for tit?) with the irrepressible Andy Baldwin and holds her own, no small feat. Rabin and Column Award winner Sara Shelby-Martin reprises her roles as senior trailer park matron Betty and the talk smut show host from the WaterTower production and grand-martials the proceedings with her commanding presence and rock solid vocal technique. Don’t mess with big Betty, even when she breaks the fourth wall in the first scene and welcomes you into Armadillo Acres. Finally, as wife Jeannie, perfect match to Jim Johnson’s Norbert, Heatherton Hardy Wilson brings a genuine poignancy to her portrayal as the repressed agoraphobic who learns to overcome her personal demons and forgive Norbert his transgression.
Less of a caricature than the other female roles, Jeannie provides accessible balance to the non-stop mayhem, even within her own personal soap opera. It’s a masterful touch for the musical’s creators to “bookend” the play’s wild farce elements with two completely sympathetic characters in Norbert and Jeannie and excellent casting on Director Chris Robinson’s part to match Johnson and Wilson in these less colorful, pivotal roles.
Costumes? By Drenda Lewis — definitely bright, contrasting camp and revealing, but functional and never distracting — wigs by Chuck Petty add oomph to each character’s ensemble. The set designed by Clare Floyd Devries — main elements cartoon-ish painted flats with slamming doors representing old-fashioned trailer homes and a slide out interior for Jeannie and Norbert’s home (detailed in delightfully hokey ticky-tacky by prop designer Cathy O’Neal) — gives a tangible down home feel that provides 100% usable playing space for the actors to create Armadillo Acres’ reality. Sound and lighting design by David H. Lambert and John Leach, respectively, are crisp, effective and professional. Live music backstage by Circle Theatre first-timers Sam Walker (guitar), Peggy Honea (bass) and James Reyes (percussion) adds a lively “live” touch without ever drowning out the un-miked singers. “Make like a nail and press on down” to Armadillo Acres at Circle Theatre and get ready to hoot and holler with glee. Given the show’s salty language and sexy, suggestive moves, it’s adult fare.
The Great American Trailer Park Musical runs through May 29. For reservations: 817.877.3040 or purchase online at www.CircleTheatre.com.
Photos provided by Circle Theatre box office