Monday, May 12, 2014



Grab a pink flamingo, your webbed lawn chair and a brewski because you're invited to take up temporary residence at Armadillo Acres, the pride of Starke, Florida.  As trailer parks go, this one is a doozy as you'll discover as "The Great American Trailer Park Musical" roars into the Connecticut Cabaret Theatre weekends until Saturday, June 7.

Plan to park your double wide next to the Garsteckis, Norbert, the amiable toll booth collector brought to life by Bobby Schultz and his wife Jeannie, the traumatized Kelly Gallagher who has never recovered from the kidnapping of their baby son.  They are about to celebrate their twentieth wedding anniversary and Jeannie can't step out of her cocoon of a home.  Norbert has tickets for the Ice Capades to lure her over the doorstep, but will it be enough?

Armadillo Acres can also boast a Greek chorus of ladies willing to gossip, swap stories, clean your toilet, defend your honor, teach you 4-letter cussing, whatever it takes to make you feel right at home.  These gals brag that they live "this side of the tracks" and their loyal friendship proves to be the spicy cheese on their nachos.  Louise Dechesser as Betty, Julie Lemos as Lin as in Linoleum and Jessica Rubin as Pickles display their "stand by your man" or "woman" with velcroed to the heart devotion.

Into this happy little campfire comes Pippi, a sensual and sweet marshmallow Kaite Corda, a gal who earns her living removing articles of clothing to music.  Her arrival sets tongues wagging and libidos rising, especially when her half-crazed ex-boyfriend Duke, a high on magic markers Chris Pearson, grabs a gun and sets off to find her.

The musical has a popcorn string of clever songs penned by David Nehls that wrap around the down home and earthy story created by Betsy Kelso.  Kelso grew up in Bethany, CT and now lives in California.  She admits she never lived in a trailer park, although Bethany has a nice one. Director Kris McMurray has a lot of fun putting this great big hearted cast on a merry chase all around the park. A lively band led by Pawel "Pauly Taters" Jura kept the joint jumpin'.

In an interview with Kelso, she confided, "David Nehls and I met on tour in Europe when we were both still performers.  I was already doing some writing with a sketch comedy group, so David approached me about writing the book for a musical set in a trailer park.  At the time, he had a lot of “trunk songs” (songs he’d written for other projects) that he was using as a musical framework for the piece, along with the idea that there would be a “Greek chorus” of trailer park housewives to help tell the story.  Over time, we cut that Greek chorus from six down to three and changed out most of the songs as the story developed and changed.  Even after the show was produced at the New York Musical Theatre Festival in 2004, we still continued to develop and make changes to it in preparation for its Off Broadway opening in 2005.  

I never lived in a trailer park, but I grew up in a town that has one (yes, Bethany, CT, has a trailer park — a nice one!).  I remember in elementary school one of my friends lived there and I thought it was so cool because it was different.  Now I think it’s the sense of instant community that draws me in.  That’s definitely an experience we like the audience to have — being part of a community with all its flaws and gossip and fun for a couple of hours.

When the idea for a Christmas-themed companion piece arose, David and I approached Stages Repertory Theatre in Houston because they’d had so much success with the original (they produced it on two separate occasions with extended runs).  Kenn McLaughlin, the Producing Artistic Director for Stages Rep., said “yes” to the Christmas idea right away and we began developing it.  The response has been great — there are already at least three productions happening this year and a few more in the pipeline, so we’re very excited about that.  And the original cast recording for “The Great American Trailer Park CHRISTMAS Musical” will be released this spring/summer."  Maybe the CT Cabaret will revisit Armadillo Acres around the holidays.

For tickets ($30), call the CT Cabaret Theatre, 31-33 Webster Square Road, Berlin at 860-829-1248 or online at  Performances are Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m., with doors opening at 7:15 p.m. Bring snacks to share at your table or buy cake and drinks at the concession stand.

Plan a visit to Armadillo Acres for a colorful change of pace that will perk you up and rev your engines.  Holy Ham-sandmiches!

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