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Eastlight offers Fun at the Ol' Trailer Park

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When you walk into the auditorium at East Peoria High School this weekend, there will be no doubt which musical you are going to see. Otherwise, you might wonder what kind of temporary classrooms they use these days.

That’s because there are two house trailers on the stage. On purpose.

It is the set of “The Great American Trailer Park Musical,” which opens Friday at Eastlight Theatre and kicks off Eastlight’s 2014 season. It seems Steve Cordle, technical director at Eastlight, wanted the real thing rather than fake trailers for the production that runs through April 26, including a matinee on Easter Sunday.

“Steve took two real trailers, took the outer shell off of each of them, then cut them down to size to fit over a wooden superstructure he built. He also wired them so we have lights on them. We have the real thing on our stage, just smaller than normal,” said Mike Reams, who is director of the show.

The smaller of the trailers spins on a turntable to show the interior and the other pulls apart at the back for the same purpose.

The setting is a trailer park in Florida that backs up to a privacy fence with sorry-looking palm trees on the other side. Throw in accents that border on the hillbilly, costumes any redneck would love and a story line and lyrics to match and you have a stereotypical show about life in a trailer park.

Asked about the show’s redeeming qualities, it took a while for Reams to stop laughing. “Really, it is a funny, funny show. The purpose of it is to just have a good time when you see it. Yes, it does parody just about every kind of stereotype about trailer park living but it does have a heart to it. The characters aren’t all just caricatures,” he said.

“It’s a lighthearted story built around people who happen to live in a trailer park.”

“The Great American Trailer Park Musical,” written by David Nehls and Betsy Kelso, has been described as South Park meets Desperate Housewives. The New Yorker called it “more fun than a chair-throwing Jerry Springer show set to music.”

It explores the lives of a few tenants of Armadillo Acres Trailer Park and includes a few strippers, an agoraphobic woman and her philandering husband, and an undershirt wearing redneck who loves to drive around and collect road kill  ̶  on his front bumper.

The stripper is Pippi, portrayed by Jillian Risinger. A Morton native who recently returned after living for a while in New York, Risinger is making her Eastlight Theatre debut. Pippi is on the run from her boyfriend and is holed up at Armadillo Acres. There becomes the love interest of Norbert, portrayed by local community theatre veteran Jarod Hazzard.

Norbert is the husband of Jeannie, portrayed by Courtney York, who has appeared in other shows at Eastlight. Jeannie won’t leave the trailer because of her agoraphobia, making it tough for her to fight for her man.

Austin Gruber portrays Duke while a trio of other women of the park, who sing several songs in Greek chorus fashion, are portrayed by Barb Couri (Betty), Carolyn Briggs-Gaul (Lin), and Susan Knoboch (Pickles).

Reams said the music, directed by Connie Tumminelli and performed by a four-piece band, is catchy, the kind of tunes people will be humming. “It’s a fun score. It isn’t real heavy or difficult,” he said.

Reams didn’t submit “The Great American Trailer Park Musical,” but rather was asked by Cordle to direct it. “I was actually interested in auditioning for it, but after Steve asked me to direct I took another look at it and decided to do it. It’s kinda my kind of show, a musical with a small cast. I like smaller casts when I direct because there is more comradery in the cast and it’s easier to work one-on-one with everybody.”

It also lent itself to a shorter rehearsal schedule, he said.

Reams has directed a dozen or more shows through the years, including hits like “The Drowsy Chaperone” at Peoria Players and “Dames at Sea” at Corn Stock Theatre. He also has performed in countless shows, musicals and non-musicals, throughout the area.

This show, he said, has been one of the more enjoyable he’s done as a director. “This really has been a lot of fun to direct. All of them have been fun in their own way, but this one keeps me laughing,” he said.

“The Great American Trailer Park Musical” is for mature audiences. The show start at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and on April 23, 24, 25 and 26. The matinee on East Sunday started at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $19 and can be purchased online at


About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).