If there’s one thing that Penobscot Theatre does very well, it’s camp. Specifically, musical theatre camp, from the stellar 2008 production of “Little Shop of Horrors” to both productions of the “Plaid” musicals, to the camp as high art that was “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”
Director Nathan Halvorson, who for the rest of 2011 is also producing artistic director for PTC, manages to breathe energy and vitality into every musical he directs, including “The Great American Trailer Park Musical,” which opened last weekend and runs through June 19. “Trailer Park” is fast-paced, colorful, delightfully trashy fun, as genuinely heartfelt as it is utterly silly. Spray cheese, teenage pregnancy and Jerry Springer are lampooned in a no-holds-barred, adults-only story of low-income living, adultery and, in the end, love.
As seems to happen with all the musicals Halvorson has directed, “Trailer Park” doesn’t have a weak link in the cast. As a director, he knows how to play up his actors’ strengths, and pull full-tilt performances from each of them. All seven performers sing and dance almost nonstop throughout the show, never seemingly breaking a sweat or missing a cue.
But it’s Winterport native Heather Astbury-Libby that shines the brightest, as Betty, the owner of Armadillo Acres Trailer Park and the leader of the three-woman chorus. She has some serious pipes, as well as some fierce comic timing, especially in the laugh-out-loud funny talk show spoof section of the show. Astbury-Libby is a born character actress, especially in musicals, and she’s in top form in this show.
But that’s not to say that everyone else didn’t do a bang-up job. Washington D.C. resident Crystal Mosser, as stripper and husband-stealer Pippi, slinks around the stage and shows off her impressive vocal range, while the two other chorus members, locals Christie Robinson and Brianne Beck, provide plenty of comic relief — Robinson as dim bulb Pickles, and Beck as the man-hungry Lin. Dominick Varney takes a smaller role as Duke, Pippi’s psychotic ex-boyfriend, and hams it up in his usual fashion, gleefully wrenching as many laughs from as many lines as possible.
Kendall Lloyd, a California native, is charmingly sweet and dopey as Norbert, the put-upon husband who cheats on his wife, Jeanne, with Pippi. AJ Mooney is the agoraphobic Jeanne, and for someone who is not as often seen in musicals, Mooney holds her own with an extremely strong vocal cast. All seven cast members sing and dance their butts off — something Halvorson clearly is eminently able at inspiring actors to do.
Costumes and set were designed by Lex Liang, who created an array of fabulous clothes for his cast, including sparkly disco duds, Pippi’s stripper outfits and the multitude of costume changes that Libby, Beck and Robinson undergo many times during the show. Everything zips along at breakneck speed, with just a few down moments in between song after song. In fact, the show is almost entirely music, with just a handful of spoken interludes. “Trailer Park” is a perfect show for a small cast in a smaller professional theatre: meaty roles, great songs and high energy. PTC knocked it out of the park, and it’s a fantastic way to end a great season.