Secrets, songs and single-wides
Published: Thursday, June 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 1, 2006 at 12:16 a.m.
Pippi the stripper is hiding at the Hipp. The leggy Oklahoma City native is on the lam from a boyfriend with a dog's name and an unhealthy affinity for cooking spray.
IF YOU GO: "The Great American Trailer Park Musical"
Her hasty retreat led her down U.S. 301, where she landed a job at the Litterbox Showpalace and took refuge in a single-wide mobile home in Armadillo Acres - a typical Florida trailer community under the shadow of Starke's water tower.
That's right, "The Great American Trailer Park Musical," the Hippodrome's raucous summer offering with an indefinite closing date, originated from a short-lived Off-Broadway musical set in Starke F-L-A, just northeast of Gainesville.
But more on that later; first let's meet more neighbors.
Our guides through this adventure - our narrative muses in sandals - are Betty, Pickles and Lin, the latter named for linoleum. Lin's husband, by the way, is on death row in the neighboring state prison plagued by a faulty electric chair.
Pickles is married to a "fancy" man from Jacksonville who delights in foreign beer and community theater. Betty, meanwhile, inherited Armadillo Acres thanks to the tragic and quite convenient death of her husband.
And then there's Norbert and Jeannie, the stars of this offbeat musical. Norbert is a toll collector, and Jeannie is a full-time agoraphobic. When we meet them, they are on the cusp of their 20th wedding anniversary; Ice Capades awaits - if only Jeannie can muster the courage to leave the trailer.
She gains some motivation, however, once Pippi arrives and snags Norbert's attention, much to the delighted tittering of the neighborhood.
Make no mistake, "The Great American Trailer Park Musical" is, indeed, a musical-comedy. For all the satiric pokes at small-town South, there are also the big voices of Broadway and the dreamy eyes and outstretched arms of the show-stopper - even if the lyrics do proclaim "I've got to make like a nail and press on."
There is the happy ending, the second-act surprise and the big musical-ensemble finale. And, as with most musicals, there is a sincerity and old-fashioned sweetness among these characters - even as they fire off some bawdy trailer talk laced with a few f-bombs.
Written by David Nehls (music/lyrics) and Betsy Kelso (book), "Trailer Park" is a comedy on the blue-collar South, as well as its stereotypes. It is a play laden with bittersweet showtunes and trash talk. It is a play that had Director Lauren Caldwell, after a recent rehearsal, seriously asking actress Kelly Atkins if her movement problem in the second act was caused by unsteady spike heels or a G-string snag.
"The Great American Trailer Park Musical" is where Wisteria Lane meets rural U.S. 301, a place with good people and poorly kept secrets - in short, a place just like any place on the map.
"I have a friend from Jacksonville who suggested Starke as the location," Nehls wrote in an e-mail to The Sun this week. "He said it would be 'perfect,' and he has been proven right."
At the Hippodrome, Scenic Designer Mihai Ciaupe built a set based on real landmarks in Starke - a motel sign, the water tower, a Brahma (or bull?) statue. Additionally, there are references to the state prison and an electric chair, although here it is called "Old Smokey" instead of "Old Sparky."
The play has stirred some skepticism from Starke's mayor, Steve Futch, who said recently he would have preferred the Hippodrome use a fictitious city name for a stage comedy about trailer parks. And while there are a few Starke-flavored jokes, Caldwell contends this is a good-hearted story that represents any community where gossip flows freely and neighbors know WAY too much about each other.
"My main hope is that folks have a great time, forget the problems of the day and get some good, hard laughs out of a situation that can happen anywhere - trailer parks or Park Ave.," he noted. "We just hope everyone takes the humor in the spirit it is intended - just good rowdy fun.
"I am from 'white trash,' so this is an homage to my people, if you will. And I hope people love these characters as much as I do and sympathize with their plight."
The Hippodrome's production is the musical's first time out of New York City. Nehls is a friend of cast member and Hipp veteran Cindy Thrall (Betty), who initially flagged Caldwell about the quirky musical based in Starke.
In October, Caldwell and Hippodrome Prop Designer Lorelei Esser found themselves in NYC and saw "Trailer Park."
"We had a ball. It was pretty much rock 'n' roll," Caldwell recalled. She left the theater with one thought: "How can I bring this to Gainesville?"
After the musical closed in December, the cast and crew were considering a tour when the Hippodrome - a professional company - requested the rights to it. The first response was no. The Hipp continued to press, and, according to Caldwell, Nehls himself stepped in and saved the day.
"I don't know how much I had to do with 'Trailer Park' playing the Hippodrome," Nehls noted, "but being that it is so close to where the action takes place, I am very excited by it happening.
"Most of what I know of the theater itself comes from friends of mine who have worked there and had positive experiences. I know they've done some offbeat shows . . . and our rowdy little show fits in with that company very well."
Notes, quotes & 'Trailer' talk
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