How does a group of strangers coalesce into an ensemble that moves together, laughs together, and entertains together? In the case of Rockville Musical Theatre’s The Great American Trailer Park Musical, here’s the formula: Take an engaging director, a script she likens to The Jerry Springer Show, and a rich score; mix for something over two months; and present in an intimate venue.
While the director and choreographer are RMT veterans, only three of the seven actors have done an RMT show—and not at the Arts Barn, the 99-seat Gaithersburg theater where Trailer Park is playing April 4-20. Some came for the show; some for Director Lee Rosenthal, who directed last season’s Nunsense A-Men!; some for Vocal Director Arielle Bayer. All have developed an affection for their characters and the little “family” they’ve created.
“I like quirky,” says Elissa Borzilleri of Kensington, “and this is a quirky show.” Like four of her castmates, she’s worked with Damascus Theatre Company (DTC) and elsewhere and quickly got a bead on her character. Betty “is a read badass,” she says with a grin. “She’s a strong woman who takes care of everyone in the trailer park. I can relate to her: She’s very caring, tough; she’s been on her own a long time, and she thinks fast.”
“There’s more to Pippi than there appears,” says Amanda Spellman of Gaithersburg, who plays a stripper on the run. ”She’s from the wrong side of the tracks but deeper than that. She’s on a huge journey, and it’s great to discover who she is as she moves along.” Spellman has a degree in musical theater from James Madison University and is one of three cast members who recently appeared with Rosenthal in DTC’s Seussical the Musical.
Derwood’s Meghan Williams Elkins credits Bayer for pulling her in—not a surprise considering that Elkins is a professional vocalist and multi-instrumentalist. Her agoraphobic character, Jeannie, hasn’t left her trailer in 20 years. “She’s adorable but very naïve,” Elkins says. Hinting at Jeannie’s problems with husband Norbert, Elkins ads, “She’s a very forgiving person. I wouldn’t be the same in her place!”
The show’s two men are Virginians. Jason Damaso of Alexandria plays bad guy Duke. Damaso had seen the show and loved it because, “it’s so different from most other musicals—irreverent, silly characters, atypical subject matter, but with a beautiful score.” Duke is completely different from himself and anyone he’s ever played, he says; dare you not to laugh when he sings in “Road Kill” about running down woodland creatures. “It lets me experiment and be as outrageous as possible without having to worry about being believable. That’s freedom!” he says.
Matt Williams of Centreville plays Norbert, Jeannie’s husband, who takes up with Pippi the stripper. “He’s not a complicated man, but he makes egregious errors in judgment and has to figure out what to do about it, and that makes him interesting,” says Williams, who has performed with companies primarily in the Old Dominion.
Damoso works in Rockville, so rehearsal nights are relatively easy—the commute home is “at speed,” as traffic reporters say. As for Williams, who has driven to Greenbelt to appear in Cabaret, “If it’s a role you really want, you’d better strike while the iron’s hot—while you’re still in the 10-year window to play the part. Same with this show and the music. I didn’t realize the sacrifice [of driving to Gaithersburg] until I did it, but it’s worked out.”
Like Damoso and Spellman, Elizabeth Hester auditioned because she wanted to work with RMT stalwart Lee Rosenthal. Hester knew “how clever the show is” and appreciated that it hasn’t been overdone in the area. Her character, Lin, is fun to play: “I can’t say my [real] husband has ever been to prison. But she’s willing to stand by him no matter what, and that’s certainly something we have in common.”
Seemingly speaking for the tight ensemble and RMT’s spring production as well, Hester adds: “That’s really what makes these characters so lovable—no matter what else goes on, they are their own little dysfunctional family and willing to go to great lengths to keep it that way. They may not have money or fancy cars, but they have each other.”
The Great American Trailer Trash Musical plays through April 20, 2014 on the weekends at Rockville Musical Theatre performing at The Gaithersburg Arts Barn- 311 Kent Square Road, in Gaithersburg, MD. For Tickets, call (301) 258-6394, or visit the Gaithersburg Arts Barn website for details. To purchase tickets online, click the “Winter Classes” link on the right side of the page, then click “Arts Barn Theater” on the left. You are required to be registered with the City of Gaithersburg Recreation program, which may take 1-2 business days if you are requesting a new personal ID. Call –it’s easier!