Equinox’s ‘Great American Trailer Park Musical’ a fun dip in the swamp

The title of this grungy, fun little musical pretty much tells you what to expect. And when you see the largest ad in the program is a thanks to Erie Auto Salvage, well, you know you’re well outside Sondheim/Webber country.

“The Great American Trailer Park Musical” introduces us to a world with all the grace and charm of a transmission in the bathtub. We’re immediately serenaded by what’s essentially the chorus: three long-time residents of the Armadillo Acres “manufactured housing community” sunning themselves with the help of foil-clad cardboard thingies and singing about “the wrong side of the tracks.”

This is Betty, Lin (short for “Linoleum” cuz that’s where her momma had her) and Pickles: Colin Roybal in alarming drag, Anna Sturtz and Shelby Taylor. They look like they’re having a lot of fun calling the plays as the domestic drama that serves as the primary entertainment at Armadillo Acres unfolds.

At the center of the action are Jeannie (Tracy Denver) and Norbert (Zachary Vaughn), coming up on their 20th anniversary but crippled by the fact that Jeannie can’t leave her trailer home. That’s on account-a them having their baby kidnapped from them many years ago, and Jeannie’s just terrified of the world.

Even tickets to the Ice Capades can’t convince her to do more than set a tentative foot on the first step of their pink single-wide.

Then, Pippi blows into the park. Bussy Gower has the looks, the voice and the attitude to play this wandering stripper who, as she laments, has been having “a bad decade.” She and Norbert immediately hit it off — and get it on — as the chorus flies into a tizzy to keep up with the action.

The last character to make an appearance is Duke (Carter Edward Smith), Pippi’s ex who’s on her tail and none too happy when he finds out about the Norbert situation.

We don’t see a ton of Smith in the first act, and I was hoping he’d come roaring back in the second because the character is hilarious. Smith plays him with equal parts mean, dumb and innocent, and his flaming America-skull T-shirt is a sight to behold. With a giant revolver he doesn’t quite know how to shoot and one of those redneck-y straw cowboy hats, Smith is a certain kind of American we all know.

And he’s clearly the agent of chaos who’s going to shake shit up at the trailer park.

An enthusiastic cast

There are a fair number of reveals that unfold in Act Two, so I won’t give them away here. Suffice to say that things ain’t what they seem, and several sordid pasts will come home to roost once the dust settles.

“TGATPM” has an almost equal mix of funny and sentimental songs. My favorite among the former was Duke’s “Road Kill” number, with Roybal, Sturtz and Taylor playing the hapless furry creatures in the way of his careening Pontiac. Jeannie and Norbert profess their love in touching fashion with “Owner of My Heart” and “That’s Why I Love My Man” while the trio backs Jeannie in her lament “Flushed Down the Pipes” (complete with toilet brush air mics).

Director Deb Flomberg-Rollins extracted every bit of comic and emotional juice out of this show by David Nehls, and she did a great job managing all the dance and movement within the limited confines of a stage crowded with three trailer homes. The backing band (never seen but backstage) is quite good, and they kept things moving musically almost non-stop.

This cast is all-in with their performance, really giving it their all. There’s not a weak link in the bunch, and they handled the mix of low comedy and heartfelt pain with style. It made for a show that’s both ready and willing to cruise the gutter for laughs but also up to tackling matters of love and loss with authenticity.

I love going to Equinox shows at The Bug Theatre, located in a part of Denver where I always feel kinda lost. Whether it’s one of the wacky “Evil Dead” musicals or this one visiting a trailer park in Florida, you’re generally guaranteed a good time — even if there’s no A/C and the intermission restroom line is a mile long.

For a trip to the seedy underbelly of America (aka Florida), “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” is a winner.

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