Kaitlin Hopkins, Shuler Hensley, and Orfeh star in The Great American Trailer Park Musical
(Photo © Peter Berberian)
Kaitlin Hopkins, Shuler Hensley, and Orfeh
star in The Great American Trailer Park Musical
(Photo © Peter Berberian)
Given most New Yorkers' lack of knowledge about trailer parks, the majority of the audience at Dodger Stages for The Great American Trailer Park Musical may not be able to judge the authenticity of Derek McLane's sets -- but, trust me, the man has done his research! On the other hand, given most New Yorkers' knowledge of musical theater, they are in the perfect position to appreciate the talented cast -- also including Linda Hart, Leslie Kritzer, Marya Grandy, and Wayne Wilcox -- that is giving voice to the music of David Nehls and the words of Betsy Kelso. The show, which is directed by Kelso and features choreography by Sergio Trujillo, will officially open on September 22.

Front and center as the offbeat show's central love triangle are three powerhouse performers. Shuler Hensley, who won a Tony Award for his revelatory performance as Jud Fry in the 2002 revival of Oklahoma!, plays good old boy Norbert. Kaitlin Hopkins, who has thrilled local audiences in Bat Boy and Bare, is his agoraphobic wife, Jeannie. And the big-voiced singer Orfeh, who was the best thing about the Broadway production of Saturday Night Fever, is Pippi, the stripper-on-the-run who temporarily comes between them.

How did nice people like these end up in a show like this? "I'm from Georgia, so I've had 35 years of training for this role," says Hensley with a hearty laugh. "I can actually guarantee full houses for this show for weeks with just my relatives." On a more serious note, Hensley feels he's been given a really great character to play: "I like the fact that it's not clear cut that Norbert is the bad guy, which I how usually get cast. And my wife is thrilled that I don't die or kill anyone in this show." Does she mind that Hensley is playing an adulterer? "I think Norbert gets caught up in this situation of being tempted by Pippi. Let's face hit, his wife won't even come out and celebrate their 20th anniversary -- and he's offered to take her to the Ice Capades."

The ladies were both lured to the show by the chance to be funny onstage, which neither of them gets to do on a regular basis. "Of all the things I read while I was on the road [with the Disney musical revue On The Record], this was the only audition I flew back for -- and on my own dime," says Hopkins, who was last seen in these parts as the therapist in Nicky Silver's controversial Beautiful Child. "Not only did the idea of the show strike me as hilarious, but I'm not playing the mother of some freaky bat kid or suicidal homosexual son. And the idea of playing 'white trash' appeals to me, since I usually get cast in all these elegant parts like the Duchess of Windsor."

What kind of preparation goes into playing Jeannie? "Ashley Brown [Hopkins' On The Record co-star, who is taking over the role of Belle in Beauty and the Beast on Broadway this month] is from Pensacola, Florida, so I had her read all my dialogue and I just copied her accent," Hopkins acknowledges. "And I can identify in some way with agoraphobia. There are days -- okay, sometimes weeks -- where I totally don't want to get out of bed. I think everyone has experienced that to some degree."

Orfeh has had it a bit harder in creating Pippi -- sort of. "I'm reading US magazine and The Star," she says. "Don't laugh! I have paid subscriptions. And, the minute I got this part, I stopped eating cake and chips and started going to the gym a lot. It's hard because my husband Andy [Karl] is such a good cook. He can make anything! But I told him he had to stop cooking unless he wanted all those people on the chat boards to say, 'Hey Andy, your wife can sing but she sure is fat.' Most of the Altar Boyz fans hate me already." (Karl recently resigned the role of Luke in that show to star in another Off-Broadway musical, Slut.)

What about going to strip clubs? Isn't that required to get into the role? "I've already been to a few clubs in my day," Orfeh admits. "I come from the music business, and that's how you make deals with record promoters -- by taking them to strip clubs. And when I was in The Gershwins' Fascinating Rhythm on Broadway, we took one of the boys in the cast to a club for his birthday. It was one of the most expensive nights of my life! What I don't understand is that the boobs aren't all that nice -- and they're definitely not real."

Says Hopkins, "I went to a strip club once, in the French Quarter in New Orleans, and I have to say that I was pretty horrified." Does this mean that she would have no desire to play Pippi? "When we first started, I didn't want Orfeh's part," she resplies. "I was actually scared of it. But now I think it would be funny if we switched parts every now and then." Orfeh says she'd happily go along with that plan: "It's always been my fantasy to do something like that, plus I really think that Jeannie is the heroine of the piece. So maybe one night, if there are only 14 people in the audience, we'll come out and do each other's parts without telling anyone."