Nov. 21--No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.
That thought from famed writer H.L. Mencken may be as close as we can get to explaining why "The Great American Trailer Park Musical" became a hit at companies across the U.S., including Houston's Stages Repertory Theatre. And why Stages is now producing the world premiere of a sequel called "The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical." If there's a Christmas Anti-Defamation League, someone should alert it.
Negligible as theater, the original generated a few rowdy, low-comedy guffaws through the sheer outrageousness of the tacky talk and behavior. If a sequel is meant to surpass the original, the new show does. It proves lower, tackier, more appalling -- and in re-hashing the milieu and attitudes of the original show, more predictable.
As he's confided on several occasions, Stages artistic director Kenn McLaughlin prefers doing more worthwhile fare and usually does. But now and then, he's got to do the sure-fire box-office show to support the rest of the programming -- the worthier fare that for some strange reason is a greater risk. Some people, at least some of the time, prefer the "you don't have to think about it" type of show. Still, there's a difference between not having to think and having one's intelligence insulted.
Betsy Kelso's thin script centers on perpetually cranky, Christmas-hating Darlene, resident Scrooge at Armadillo Acres. Accidental electrocution works a miraculous transformation, turning Darlene nice and Christmas-loving. Betty, Lin and Pickles, the three gabby neighbors who narrate, want to make sure Darlene does not lapse; they've got to keep her home decorated in hopes of winning a contest. Much ado about nothing, this plot generates not the slightest scintilla of involvement.
David Nehls' undistinguished songs don't help, combining unmemorable music with clumsy lyrics that don't always scan. The attempt, about once an act, to include a ballad of genuine sentiment doesn't work amid such cartoonish surroundings. Otherwise, the progression from opening number, "Christmas in My Mobile Home," to the closing number, "Trailer Park Christmas Time" demonstrates the redundancy of the proceedings.
Sure, there are a few embarrassed "Heavens, did they actually say/sing that?" titters. But one joke per show about chlamydia should probably be the limit, at least for the holiday season.
McLaughlin directs his cast to plow full steam ahead through this stuff -- yelling, sassing, blustering. It's the only way to get through it, though the broadness eventually becomes wearing.
Stalwarts Ivy Castle, Carolyn Johnson and Susan Koozin brazen through their coarse antics as the trio of trash-talking busybodies who power the show. They even make some of it funny.
Like them, Chelsea Ryan McCurdy (as Darlene) has a good singing voice, and she does her best with her labored nasty-to-nice role. She invests her initial burst of syrupy sweetness with genuine humor.
Corby Sullivan, as Darlene's nerdy love interest Rufus, is called upon to act the doofus -- and obliges. Josh Morrison, as her obnoxious love interest Jackson, brags and swaggers obnoxiously, as required.
"Trailer Park Christmas" is sufficiently lowbrow to make the average "Hee-Haw" episode look like "My Fair Lady."
Yet customers who ate up the first "Trailer Park" show likely will make this one a hit for Stages, too.
As they say, there's no accounting for taste.
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