By Stanford Friedman
There are campers, but no hint of camp, in Single Wide, the trailer park musical that has pulled into town for a short stay at this year’s New York Musical Theatre Festival. Playing it straight, the Utah-based team of George D. Nelson and Jordan Kamalu have composed a predictable musical that is not without its charms. A heroine, a hot mess, a still river, a nosy nana, and a young boy tasked with progressing the play’s narrative all find their way to a happy ending despite their economic hardships, disruptive pasts and absent male authority figures (Though presumably not every night’s performance ends quite as happily as this one, with Kamalu taking the stage to play a song on his ukulele before taking a knee to propose to his girlfriend.).
As we know from TV and film, women who live in trailer parks all speak with the same accent; that slightly southern, slightly weary lilt of the disenfranchised. So it is with the three gals who command most of the stage time here. Katy (Emma Stratton) is the smart, hardworking single mother in need of a break. Amanda (Stacia Fernandez) is Katy’s mother who, when not prying into her daughter’s love life, runs an online pet supply store, thus allowing her to lament the fact that her customers’ pets are living better lives than they are. And Flossie (Jacqueline Petroccia) is the desperate trailer trash slut straight from central casting who has kissed a goodly number of frogs in search of a prince. The key men in these ladies’ lives are Katy’s son, Sam (Matt Miner), and Guy (Derek Carley), the handsome stranger who has just moved into the park.
With Guy’s arrival, Carley briefly kicks the show into a whole new gear with his first number, a beautifully rendered lament called Till It Feels Like Home. With a great voice and an understated manner, it’s no wonder that Katy feels an attraction. Stratton creates a sympathetic character and she is no slouch in the vocal department either, occasionally dropping out of her accent in favor of a rich and clear tone when belting her ballads. She is unfortunately saddled, though, with an 11:00 number called Microwave Life, where she must sing lyrics like “What would it cost/For me to defrost/Myself again?” Sam, sensing the possibility of having a new dad, plays matchmaker for his Mom, and playwright Nelson calls upon the character often to move the action forward. Luckily, the impressive Miner, at age 14, is up for anything. He is cute, in the best sense of the term, in an I–love-my-boy duet with Stratton (One For Me), and dances and gets thrown around by Carley in their fun male-bonding number, While You’re Young.
Kamalu’s score is not the most varietal, offering just a negligible difference in beat between the ballads and the up tempo pieces. The one exception is Flossie’s bouncy number, Love And War, which Petroccia sings with Dolly Parton-esque aplomb. Choreographer/Director Jeff Whiting, meanwhile, brings some line dance inspired merriment to the proceedings. And set designer Jason Ardizzone-West’s trailers, made from scaffolding, are constantly spinning around to reveal their interiors. But Nelson’s book ultimately drags things down. The show’s first ninety minutes are dense with exposition. This leaves just a final fifteen minutes for an evil plot to be hatched, confusion to be seeded and then resolved, and for Katy’s and Sam’s fragile hearts to break and mend. If a trailer park is the ultimate metaphor for going nowhere fast, then Single Wide arrives with an unbalanced load, and a sudden bump at the end.
Single Wide – Book and Additional Lyrics by George D. Nelson, Music and Lyrics by Jordan Kamalu; Directed and choreographed by Jeff Whiting.
WITH: Stacia Fernandez (Amanda), Emma Stratton (Katy), Derek Carley (Guy), Jacqueline Petroccia (Flossie), Matthew Miner (Sam), Maclain Nelson (Bodie), Maya Landau (Freddi), and Alex Lanning (Ali).
Jason Ardizzone-West (Scenic Design), John Demous (Lighting Design), Sarah Cubbage (Costume Design), Harry Platt (Sound Design), Dedalus Wainwright (Props Design), Alan Schmuckler (Music Director), Colyn Fiendel (Production Stage Manager); The New York Musical Theatre Festival at PTC Performance Space, 555 West 42nd Street, 866-811-4111, www.nymf.org/singlewide. Remaining Performances – Thursday, July 23, 2015 at 5:00pm; Friday, July 24, 2015 at 9:00pm; Saturday and July 25, 2015 at 1:00pm. Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.