Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical—Brunish Theatre—downtown Portland

“Heart Full of Christmas”

This naughty musical is playing at the Stumptown Stages (upstairs from the Newmark & Winningstad theatres), 1111 SW Broadway, through December 27th.  It is written by David Nehls (music & lyrics) and Betsy Kelso (book) and directed by Kirk Mouser, with choreography by Cherie Price and music direction by Mak Kastelic.  For more information, go to their site at www.stumptownstages.org

Yes, this show is about some of the most irreverent, irascible, illiterate, irritable characters that every fell off of Santa’s sleigh.  But, at its heart, it’s just about some very human folk, with their own private demons and desires, who want to spread joy in their little neck (albeit, a bit reddish) of the woods.  In fact, if you look real close, you just might see your own reflection.

The story takes place in a trailer park in Florida called Armadillo Acres and they celebrate Christmas in their own special way.  They have a brew called KegNog and make wreaths out of PBR beer cans.  Their manger scene consists of the usual first Christmas family with Frosty, the Snowman and a Storm Trooper to guard this flock by night.  They also have an assortment of pink flamingos, garden gnomes, golden plaster monkeys and paper Christmas balls for their plastic tree.

The décor may seem a bit twisted but, you have to admit, they are original and don’t follow traditional conventions.  They are, after all, trying to win the $10,000 grand prize from Mobile Homes & Gardens for the most decorative trailer park.  The heart-of-gold, unofficial manager, Betty (Sherrie Van Hine), is determined to whip her tenants into shape to garner the much-need monies for her lower-income residents.

They consist of a tom-boyish, biker girl, Linoleum (Sheila Donahue Bruhn), named because that is where she was birthed on the kitchen floor; the scattered-brained, flighty, Pickles (Kelly Stewart), not the sharpest knife in the drawer; and the big-hearted Rufus (Steve Coker), looking for a down-home, home-made Christmas, as he remembered as a child.  The only fly in the ointment is the petulant, petty Darlene (Elizabeth Hadley), who hates Christmas because of a tragedy that happened when she was a young girl around that time.  And her boyfriend, Jackson (Andy Mangels), a contrary cuss, owner of the diner where the Girls work, has some nefarious plans of his own for the trailer park.

When an accident shocks Darlene in an amnesiac state, her demeanor changes and she becomes a lover of the Holiday.  But, like Scrooge, she must face her demons by means of visitations of the Ghosts of Past & Present memories.  Can’t tell you much more but know that there will be a “Heart Full of Christmas” before the show is over.  And, if you haven’t figured it out yet, this is a show for adults because of language and adult situations.

The music and songs are a selling point to this show and what terrific singers he has.  Mouser always seems to get some of the best voices onstage that I’ve ever heard!  The touching ballads, “Christmas Memories” (Coker & Hadley) and “My Christmas Tin Boy Soldier” (Hadley) were my personal two favorite numbers from the show (yes, call me a romantic, but genuine sentiment gets me every time).  And Coker’s “Black and Blue on Christmas Eve” was a show-stopper.  Both these performers were highlights in the show and have amazing voices.

“The Girls” (Bruhn, Stewart & Van Hine) were great in their chorus and dance numbers.  Van Hine was funny and lovable as the “boss” of the group.  I especially liked Stewart who was extremely animated as her character and has an outstanding voice.  Hope to see more of her onstage as she’s a real asset to a show.  Bruhn, I can vouch for personally, as being an outstanding singer, as I produced three musicals, Sweet Charity, A Chorus Line and West Side Story in which she played major roles.  Good to see her back onstage.  And Mangels has a rich voice, as the “bad guy” of the piece.

Mouser has again worked wonders in such a small space and chosen well his cast.  It’s good to see Price still in action.  And the orchestra (Kastelic, Ben Finley, Dave Muldoon and Amy Roesler) did well, too.  The set (designer, Coker) was perfect for the space and lighting (designer, Vanessa Janson) helped create the transitions of time and space.  Overall, a fun show with lots of heart and talent!

A side note, the next show for Stumptown, The Adventures of Dex Dixon, Paranormal Dick, later in January, was written by Coker and he plays Dex.  This is a show not to be missed, as I saw his original version last year and it is amazing both in script and songs/music.

I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.