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Capsule Stage Reviews: The Great American Trailer Park Musical, Opening the Box

The Great American Trailer Park Musical There's nothing wrong with fried food, except when it stains your pants and you can't get the smell off your fingers. Stages uses the best oil — the production boasts a dream cast with smooth direction and movement by Leslie Swackhamer and Krissy Richmond, while Kevin Holden's production design is all corrugated wall panels and stuffed fish trophies, simply irresistible — but deep-fried is still deep-fried. The musical is a cartoon, and there's nothing else to do with this material except play it broad like the worst TV variety show imaginable. But two hours of Hee Haw is impossible. The Nashville-lite music by David Nehls is instantly forgettable, as are his crude and unfunny lyrics. Betsy Kelso's lame book is one stereotype stumbling over the next, except for the wittiest line, "He reeks of permanent marker," which is positively Shavian next to the riot of F-bombs she sprinkles throughout, as if those are cues for laughs. Bright rays of stagecraft manage to shine through in the unhappily married couple sensitively played by Holland Vavra Peters and Brad Goertz, who bring needed heart and fine voices into this dull affair. They actually invent characters out of their caricatures. The trio of low-life trailer trash is enlivened by comic overplaying from Susan O. Koozin, Jessica Janes and Melodie Smith, but somewhere during Act I these three are turned into a background chorus and they never recover. It's indicative of the show, where bra headlights are the summit of visual puns. Unassailable and unconquerable, Trailer Park rolls on and on. If you don't want to become road kill, it's best to just get out of the way. Through July 24. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Pkwy., 713-527-0123. — DLG

Opening the Box Five veteran performers from Masquerade Theatre, Houston's repository of Broadway musicals, have left that company to form their own: Music Box Theater. The five artists — Rebekah Dahl, Brad Scarborough, Luke Wrobel, Cay Taylor and Colton Berry — use the cabaret format to showcase their formidable talents, and they plan to produce four original shows each year. The music's an assortment of Broadway, the great American songbook, Hollywood, and contemporary pop and rock. As musical performers, these artists are unimpeachable. With diverse talents, they fit so comfortably together when all of them harmonize that they're an ideal boy/girl group. Since they no longer have fictional characters to play, the five play themselves, or some persona they want us to believe them to be. Inevitably, they overplay. Even solo cabaret acts can get bogged down in personal patter, but since this is the troupe's first original show, and details must be worked out, they are forgiven — this time. More singing, less talk. Dahl, a Houston treasure and ultimate Broadway baby, has given us indelible performances in Sweeney Todd, Guys and Dolls and Gypsy. She's completely comfortable onstage, and she happily satisfies our craving when, Valkyrie-like, she rides joyously through Wicked's powerhouse anthem "Defying Gravity." Easygoing with charm to spare, Scarborough proves it with his crooner's smooth rendition of the Beach Boys' "Don't Worry Baby." He's a comic foil for dramatically dark Wrobel, who oozes intensity. His idiosyncratic, affecting take on "Over the Rainbow" is reason enough to see this show. Taylor belies her stature with a ringing, rich soprano and piquant humor. Singing a cappella, she floats above McCartney's "Blackbird," accompanied by the other four. Berry has a lively, hipster's presence with a knockout wail of a voice, used to superb effect on Aerosmith's "Dream On." Using richly colorful arrangements, the musical direction under Glenn Sharp (keyboard), with Mark McCain (lead guitar), Long Le (bass guitar) and Donald Pain (percussion), is a cool, jazzy earful. As a first romp without the spine of a book musical to buoy them, Music Box Theater delivers the vocal goods with inspiring results. Keep the intros short, the songbook as varied, and the future, as Momma Rose belts in Gypsy, will be comin' up roses. Through August 7. Music Box Theater, 2623 Colquitt. 713-522-7722. — DLG

 
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