‘The Great American Trailer Park Musical’ Director on the Show’s Humor and Heart
As the age-old adage goes: Give the people what they want. While this axiom isn’t always the driving force behind a theater’s decision to stage a show, Stages Repertory Theatre took it into account when deciding to remount “The Great Trailer Park Musical.” After all, it is the most-requested title in the company’s history.
Written by Betsy Kelso and David Nehls, the musical follows Pippi, a stripper on the run, who blows into North Florida’s most-exclusive manufactured housing community and comes between an agoraphobic housewife and her toll collector husband. The company initially presented the show in 2006 to unprecedented fanfare, and it ran for 10 months, holding the record for the longest-running show in Stages’s history. In 2011, Stages brought the show back for another extended and very successful run, and now, with the company’s 40th anniversary season upon them, the requests are still pouring in so the show is back again for a third time and will run through July 22.
We sat down with Mitchell Greco, artistic associate at Stages and the director/choreographer of “The Great American Trailer Park Musical,” to talk about the show’s success and the creative process behind bringing it back.
What is it about this show that makes it so popular here in Houston?
It’s a mix of things. The writing is clever. It’s fall-out-of-your-chair funny and heartfelt, and the music and lyrics are top-notch. When people see it, they’re surprised by the amount of heart that’s in it. At its core, it’s about a community and how that community survives—survives the day, a marriage, a hurricane, life. I also think it has an incredible message of acceptance and empowerment that also resonates.
A lot of the characters in the show are really over the top; some might say stereotypes. How do you handle that in the show?
It was very important to me that we did not make fun of the people the show portrays. These characters may be a bit larger than life, and we’ve certainly had a good time playing with some common perceptions (or perhaps misperceptions) about trailer parks. But I think what makes the show special and surprising is that in the end it really is about lifting up the best qualities of any tight-knit community — acceptance, loyalty, perseverance, deep friendship, and care for one another. The show also doesn’t play favorites when it comes to poking fun — it’s an equal-opportunity offender!
When you say offender, does that mean it’s not for sensitive souls?
I honestly think there’s something in it for everyone. It has a lot of raunchy/adult humor, so if that’s not your cup of tea, I’d stay away. But the characters are lovable; the actors are incredible; and the amount of heart would surprise you in a musical that includes (but is not limited to) spray cheese, agoraphobic housewives, electrocutions, adultery, stripping, hysterical pregnancies, spray tans, astro turf, flan, and huffin’. And that’s just Act 1!
It was really fun to see the different types of audiences. One night we would have a crowd who really dug the filthier aspects of the show, and the next night we had an audience who responded more to the clever wordplay. It has a little bit for everyone, though I’d probably leave the kids at home!
Did you change anything for this production?
It’s pretty much the same script/score that’s been produced previously. We’ve added a new scene between two characters at the top of Act 2 and changed one or two references that were a little dated. It’s the first time I’ve ever directed the show, so that’s brand new, as are all of the designs.
Of the seven cast members, five have done the show before. I’m constantly amazed by this cast. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed harder or more consistently in a rehearsal period.
Do you have any favorite lyrics from the songs in the show?
Oh, this is a tough one. David’s lyrics are so well-crafted and clever, it’s hard to choose. The two that pop into my mind are “Popped a pus in Pensacola” from “Roadkill,” for the alliteration which I think is fun. And one of the final lyrics “tomorrow is a place where I want to belong.” It sums up the show perfectly, and I find it to be extremely moving.