The set-up: As The Nutcracker is to the Houston Ballet or A Christmas Carol is to the Alley, so The Great American Trailer Park Musical is to Stages. It's its cash cow, playing for weeks on end and pulling in audiences in record-breaking numbers. The show does wonders for the company's bottom line. Unlike the other presentations, however, Trailer is no work of art. Never was, never will be. As a crass piece of paint-by-number, it is critic-proof. No matter what, the show is destined to do boffo box office.
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The execution: 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 sensitive playing by Holland Vavra Peters and Brad Goertz, as the unhappily married couple, 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.
The verdict: Unassailable and unconquerable, Trailer Park rolls on and on. If you don't want to be road kill, get out of the way.
Through July 24. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway. 713-527-0123.