Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Edinburgh Reviews: The Great American Trailer Park Musical

The Great American Trailer Park Musical

So we chose this as the first show to see in Edinburgh this year on account of how it's free with our C venues passes and it's a direct competitor of ours. Perhaps not a great choice of first show to see, since it proved a pretty daunting glimpse of the competition. We have consoled ourselves with the knowledge that this show has been running on off-Broadway in the US for three years now, and the current cast have been doing it for, if not quite that long, then much longer than we've been doing our show.

Trailer Park tells the story of Norbert, a tollbooth collector, Jeannie, his agoraphobic wife (who hasn't left her trailer since their baby was snatched 20 years ago - cue ridiculously coincidental plot development towards the end, though to be fair not the one I was expecting), and Pippi, a young stripper who moves to the trailer park to run from her ex-boyfriend Duke, and promptly has an affair with Norbert.

Basically, that's it for plot, which leads me to the basic problem I had with this show (well I might as well do the whinges first): monotony. The plot has only one real strand to it: the love triangle between the aforementioned three characters (plus Duke towards the end). As comic relief, we get a few more characters: Betty, Pickles and Lin. These three are, however, glorified narrators for the main plotline, and therefore their arrival is not necessarily accompanied by a narrative change of scene. Consequently, if one gets bored of the main plot, there's not much respite.

The plot isn't the only thing that's a little bit one-tone about the show. The singing is incredibly impressive, without exception the cast have amazing voices and I can only marvel at their ability to pull out performances like this on a nightly basis. It is fair to say, however, that there isn't a great deal of range in the musical style of the show. The result, as one friend remarked, was the impression that "they all had degrees in musical theatre from the University of Belting". If you aren't particularly impressed by this style of singing, this isn't going to appeal to you much.

As a sound designer, I can't finish my gripes without a mention of that old chestnut, the Not Muting Radio Mics When The Actor Is Offstage Problem. And whilst I can appreciate that the show is pretty full-on, the reverb on the mics even during spoken dialogue seemed a bit much. Of course, we saw them pretty early on, this may have changed by now.

Anyway, gripes over. Oh, and here's an anti-gripe. I would like to dispute most vigorously the review in Three Weeks which rather snottily accuses anyone who laughs at the show of "laughing at people for being poor and uneducated". This is one of those criticisms that somewhat misses the point of the show, which pretty wholeheartedly celebrates the characters it shows us. About the only particularly cruel laughter in it is directed towards one character for being unintelligent, but that's a feature of most comedy ever made, so I'm not going to start laying into Trailer Park for that.

What is indisputably great about this musical is the acting. The three narrators in particular are a masterclass in characterisation, with never a moment on stage when they weren't completely and convincingly in character. On second thoughts, though, I don't want to single them out too much, because the cast are universally impressive, their characters just happen to be absolute gifts. The music is well written and some of the numbers are genuinely memorable (more than can be said for some big hit musicals). The book is full of snappy, convincing dialogue, and the show is frequently laugh out loud funny. The set and costume design is effective, the lighting pretty straightforward but evocative, picking up where the set leaves off for those scenes set outside the trailer park.

This is a very slick and polished production that the team behind it have every reason to be very proud of. I'm just not sure the basic underlying plot framework is quite right.


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