It’s a smart playwright who creates new Christmas fodder for the stage. People are hungry for holiday cheer.
There’s the nostalgia of “Scrooge!”, and the elegance of “The Nutcracker,” but for a gut-busting piece of bawdy Americana, get your tickets to Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte’s “The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical.” It has a long run, but tickets are selling faster than the pancakes at Stacks, where they promise: “If we don’t say y’all, y’all eat for free.”
Written by Betsy Kelso as a follow-up to her first trailer park musical, the book is provincial but not condescending. It’s crass, but in a good way. David Nehls’ music and lyrics range from balladic to bluesy, with clever references, and some bad rhyming that works, given the overall tone.
It’s 12 days before Christmas, and the folks at Armadillo Acres are determined to win the Mobile Homes & Gardens Most Festive Trailer Park Award. The only thing in their way is the dour, Christmas-hating Darlene Seward (Lauren Neely), who refuses to decorate her trailer.
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The entire cast strikes every right chord, and director Chip Decker gets the most out of each of them. They can act, they can sing; it’s the ultimate ensemble.
The narration is performed by a trio of women from the original show.
Lisa Smith Bradley’s Betty is sassy and smart, someone who’s lived through many a trailer-park Christmas curse. Brianna Susan Smith plays Lin (short for the linoleum floor upon which she was birthed), a saucy death-row widow with a big, beautiful voice. Pickles (Cassandra Howley Wood) is the ingenue – a single mom with the sensibilities of a child and a physical sense of grace.
Two men play to type. Ryan Stamey is Rufus Jeter, a man of odd jobs, a huge heart, a great voice, and a sweet spot for Christmas. Grant Alan Watkins plays the foil, Jackie Boudreaux. He’s a jaded entrepreneur with a rocking pelvis and a penchant for hard women.
And Neely earns her accolades by segueing from a steely malcontent to a woman full of wonder to a brand-new creature.
The choreography elevates the sense of joy already conveyed by the music played by a four-man band. Tod A. Kubo crafts simple and effective dance steps the whole cast can perform well, and sporadically sneaks in more sophisticated moves. The costuming is terrific, and I dare you to not stare at Lin’s intoxicating plaid bra.
The characters fulfill stereotypes while establishing singularity. The tongue-in-cheek dialogue strikes a balance between mockery and fond indulgence. And when it comes to Christmas at a trailer park, there’s room for lots of over-the-top fun, from beer-can wreaths to Solo cup garlands, pineapple curtains to the creative use of flamingos.
Puppets and a background shadow performance gild the lily. Thematic references ranging from Jesus to Dickens to tin soldiers might nail your decision to make this trailer-park tale your new holiday favorite.