BY SANDY STAGGS
While other colleges are closing out the year with high-brow Shakespearean and Greek tragedies (Clemson’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Furman’s “Romeo and Juliet,” North Greenville’s “Macbeth” and Anderson’s “Oedipus Rex”), the Shoestring Players at USC Upstate in Spartanburg are taking the high road. Well, actually the low road, one that ends at the Armadillo Acres Trailer Park in Florida.
The Off-Broadway hit show “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” by David Nehls and Betsy Kelso is vulgar, raunchy and, most of all, funny as hell in its attempt to show that rednecks are people too.
This bombastic musical directed by Upstate Theatre Director Jimm Cox is, as one can imagine from its title, akin to “Jerry Springer” meets “Peyton Place” with a sordid love tringle at its core and likeable songs with biting ‑ often shocking ‑ lyrical jabs that simultaneously reinforce and challenge every stereotype about trailer park livin’. I seriously lost count of the OMG moments and several F-Bombs were dropped.
The rambunctious sophomore Kacy Winterhalter (Shoestring regulars will recall her from the recent “Don’t Drink the Water” and last year’s “The Children’s Hour”) is the once-golden girl living the American dream (as seen on Teen Mom, that is) of young love, pregnancy, marriage, tragedy and ultimately agoraphobia. She hasn’t set foot out of her trailer in 20 years and her refusal to celebrate their 20th anniversary at the Ice Capades sends toll-booth collector husband Norbert (Garret Gibson) to the arms of the new girl in the park Pippin, a stripper on the run from an abusive boyfriend.
Kacy Winterhalter has trusty instinct and comic timing and succeeds as both a tormented, phobia-stricken mother and a courageous wife scorned. She serves a mean helping of satire too in her country styling of the novelty tune “Flushed Down the Pipes” – an homage to Johnny Cash’s “Flushed From The Bathroom Of Your Heart.”
And she is awash in homespun sincereity in winsome pop ditties like “One Step Closer” with the ever-steadfast Gibson, who enthralled Spartanburg Little Theatre audiences as the Beast in “Beauty and the Beast” early this season.
“The Great American Trailer Park Musical” also has a peculiar “Little Shop of Horrors” vibe, though without the alien flesh-eating plant.
Take for instance the trashy trio of trailer park gal pals who function as the singing Greek Chorus of the narrative and grace the stage for nearly three-fourths of the musical. And much like the “Little Shop” urchins, they open the show and appear throughout the proceedings sometimes as other characters such as three horny redneck male customers in the strip club.
There’s Betty, the smart one in the group played by Savannah Hall; the eternally (hysterically) pregnant Pickles (a sparkling Kat Powell); and Jillian Wain’s Lin, short for Linoleum, because her mother gave birth to her on the kitchen floor. Lin is the bad-ass in the trio and her old man is on death row waiting for Old Sparky to light up.
They are the driving force in the story and provide cultural grounding, plenty of laughs and musical continuity and fine three part harmony in outrageous songs like “That’s Why I Love My Man.”
There are a number of other moments of pure delight as well like the performance by the vixen in question played by Gabrielle Sassone, whose costumes both on and off the strip pole leave nothing to the imagination, especially in her pleasing show-stopping number “The Buck Stops Here.”
And Doug Yates always brings a virile masculine edge to the scenery and this time he’s Pippin’s psycho boyfriend Duke. He takes a couple very hard falls and there is a well-orchestrated sequence in the bombastic “Roadkill” with Yates racing down the highway in a tiny golf car (with perky illumination by lighting designer Rich Robinson) picking off animals along his route and incessantly inhaling chemicals, much like the sadistic dentist hooked on nitrous oxide in “Little Shop.”
The acting and characterizations were solid, but the accents and vocals were uneven at times; and I would like to have seen this capable cast cutting their teeth on some more challenging choreography.
Four Flamingos to the hot live band in this show (hidden within the blue trailer in the middle) with loads of Elton-esque piano riffs played by musical director Joy Finch with Shawn Allen on guitar, Micah Lanham on bass, and Kevin Heuer on percussion. Ben Chumley serves as rehearsal pianist.
And Four Flamingos to Scenic Designer Barry Whitfield’s enchanting “manufactured housing community” in spring pastel tones that are pleasing aesthetically and ingeniously open at the ends to slide out the interior living space.
This production also includes the talents of Brigitte Staggs as assistant director, Mr. Gibson as assistant music director, Brandon Higginbotham on sound, Jennifer Latto as costume coordinator, and Brandon Mimnaugh and Howie Jordan as assistant stage managers.
Only 1 more chance today to see “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” Sunday, April 9 at 3 p.m. at USC Upstate Performing Arts Center, 800 University Way in Spartanburg. Box Office: (864) 503-5695 or