The Orange County Register

'Trailer Park' in Costa Mesa houses laughs and heartache

By Eric Marchese / Contributing writer

June 16, 2016 Updated 9:34 p.m.

In recent seasons, Costa Mesa Playhouse has had fun and pushed the envelope with non-traditional fare like "Urinetown," "Dog Logic" and "Bat Boy, the Musical."

Now "The Great American Trailer Park Musical" joins that list of edgier shows, as Betsy Kelso's book and David Nehls' lyrics satirize the stereotype of "trailer trash" – poor, lower-class Southern whites.

CMP's staging, directed by Cathy Petz, captures the 2005 off-Broadway show's broad laughs along with an element just as crucial: a confessional, bittersweet tone. As vital is the way Nehls' score allows these well-meaning characters to express their heartaches.

The show's dialogue and lyrics deliver some rough, raw laughs, with language to match – a striking contrast to its characters, enmeshed in soap opera-like romantic entanglements.

Petz imparts a suitably loose, funny, funky tone, providing a meditative show that evokes soft chuckles and hard guffaws while pulling at the heartstrings, and her cast effects a satirical sketch comedy flavor à la "Saturday Night Live" in essaying Kelso's fast-moving, enjoyably inventive script.

Elizabeth Bouton is honest and ingenuous without making the agoraphobic Jeannie naïve, delivering notable vocal work all around. Her opposite number is Pippi (Erin Bartosch), a young stripper who moves in next door and starts an affair with Jeannie's husband Norbert (Jon Sparks).

Bartosch evokes pathos for the sexy yet troubled young lady, delivering a sultry pole dance during the song "The Buck Stops Here" and serving up sizzling vocals throughout the show.

Sparks' Norbert is a decent everyman who honestly loves both Jeannie and Pippi. Jonathan Haidl's portrayal of Pippi's obsessive boyfriend Duke is goofily comical when scary and alarming would serve the role better.

The show's heart and soul are Shannon Page, Emily Price and Montica Kirsch, solid comedic actors with dynamite vocals who function as the show's Greek chorus.

Nehls' first-rate lyrics advance the plot, and his musically viable, enjoyably authentic score covers a wide variety of genres – country-western, hard and soft rock, Motown, gospel, blues and disco. Todd Hulet and Stephen Hulsey alternate on keyboard while leading the outstanding onstage band.

Petz's detailed, ingenious scenic design features Jeannie and Norbert's corrugated trailer cut away so we can see inside, the façade of Pippi's trailer, and fold-out brick walls for the strip club.

Eric Marchese / Contributing writer

"The Great American Trailer Park Musical"

Where: Costa Mesa Playhouse, 611 Hamilton St., Costa Mesa

When: Through July 3. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, 2 p.m. July 2

How much: $20 ($18 seniors/students)

Length: 1 hour, 25 minutes (no intermission)

Suitability: Adult content and language

Call: (949) 650-5269