There's something altogether tacky and tasteless about The Great American Trailer Park Musical, but rather than sound like a criticism, this production embraces those exact qualities and pins them firmly to its trailer door. Premièring at the New York Music Theatre Festival in 2004, this musical comes to London for the first time in a loud, bawdy and relentless production bolstered by a set of excellent performances.
As you may have guessed from the title, the humour is broad and base and spends most of the time vamping on the comedy of stereotypes of those you'd expect to find living in an American trailer park. Fanny packs, permatans and wife beaters accompany a story about a agoraphobic mother who has lost her baby and discovers her husband is having an affair with a stripper with a dark past. Both plot and characters are wafer thin, and little comment or exploration is given besides the one dimension.
As a musical it works best when they're singing, Betsy Kelso's book does little to broaden any of the characters or provide anything other than predictable situations, and there's no attempt at satire or anything more than bubblegum humour. David Nehls' score works overtime to provide range and dramatic scope to allow the cast to show off their incredible talents, and there's some pleasing melodies that mix the generic with the pastiche, but everything remains at one tempo (peppy), one volume (loud) and one vocal quality (belting).
The production is fiercely sung and convincingly delivered by the entire cast. Rarely have I heard such powerful vocal delivery on the Fringe, and James Taylor's musical direction can only be commended. Complete with tight close harmony from our three Little Shop Ronettes-style narrators, their collective performances surpass the material, and deliver it with ultimate conviction. It's a cast of West End veterans, and it certainly shows, with each of them squeezing the absolute maximum potential from their scarcely sketched characters, providing finely timed and, dare I say, even nuanced performances.
Producer Garry Lake has assembled a talented cast and creative team that elevate the show above the material, that in the wrong hands could make for a horrendous night of theatre. Instead, there is serviceable direction, lively choreography and a highly effective set design that pull together to make the show slightly more than just a simple opportunity to poke fun at a vulnerable layer of society.
Whilst the humour feels slightly dated, like a reality TV show from the mid-noughties or something you'd catch late night on Challenge TV, it certainly provides two hours of escapism and a chance to be blown away by a hugely talented cast. Whilst the piece itself may be theatrical chewing gum, it's the performances that you'll remember and are worthwhile letting yourself go.