The Great American Trailer Park Musical, Waterloo East Theatre, London ★★½

Reviewed for The Reviews Hub:

At one early point, Rosemary Ashe’s Betty, the leader of The Great American Trailer Park Musical’s Greek chorus, decries the use of “crude stereotypes” in the setting of a musical in a Florida trailer park, home to a collection of low-to-no income people who form the cast of David Nehls and Betsy Kelso’s comedy musical. One wishes that Nehls and Kelso had taken their own advice, though – for their setting never escapes those same stereotypes, choosing instead to laugh at an American subclass with relentless sneering and sexism, to the detriment of the show’s sole endearing storyline.

Ashe, Michelle Bishop and Jodie Steele are three residents in the Armadillo Acres trailer park, and through their fourth wall-breaking narration they tell the story of fellow resident Norbert (Adam Vaughan), his agoraphobic wife Jeannie (Jemma Alexander) and the stripper (Sabrina Aloueche) whose arms he falls into. And Alexander is the show’s brightest point here: her steadfast determination to escape her psychological prison so that she can celebrate her wedding anniversary with her husband is the plot’s greatest redeeming factor. Alexander’s performance transcends the book’s tendency to laugh at her mental illness to create a portrayal that is sweet, charming, funny and drives the audience to root for her at every step.

Unfortunately, the tremendous vocal talents of the cast, while being given some tremendous vocal workouts in Nehls’ songs, are soon driven into a rut with a catalogue of numbers that begin to blend into one another. To their credit, the cast rise above the many indignities foisted upon them: most notably Sabrina Aloueche, whose powerhouse vocals deserve to be heard in far better shows, manages to scrape some semblance of dignity in a role that requires her to strip to her underwear.

Ultimately, the acting and singing talents on display are wasted on material that really does not deserve it. Any musical which attempts to get laughs from one woman calling another woman “whore” and “slut”, and which excuses a man’s infidelity as the fault of his agoraphobic wife, should be questioned and challenged as to the nature of its comedy. An American trailer park musical this may be: great it most certainly is not.

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