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'Trailer Park' now in drive

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ASK not whether New York is ready for a trailer park musical - ask whether "The Great American Trailer Park Musical" is finally ready for off-Broadway.

After two delays - new songs, sick cast members, and a last-minute decision to yank the intermission - the curtain's set to rise tonight on the most buzzed-about show from last year's New York Musical Theatre Festival: a heady gumbo of R&B, gospel and rock and roadkill jokes.

"Now it moves like a bat out of hell," says David Nehls, who wrote the music and lyrics. "That's what you want for something called 'Trailer Park' - it has to move and be crazy!"

Crazy's as good a word as any for a show that features a Greek chorus of Crisco-slathering sunbathers; a toll collector and his agoraphobic wife ("Immobile in My Mobile Home") - and the stripper who comes between them.

Not that Nehls and his director and book writer, Betsy Kelso, have anything against trailer parks. Growing up in Pennsylvania, Nehls used to deliver papers to one on his route, and found "the nicest people" living there.

Besides, Kelso says, "New York is a trailer park - you're living in small quarters, you're right on top of everyone else. Somehow, you learn to deal."

The tattooed twosome (you'd never mistake them for Kander and Ebb) met during the European road tour of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show they played Goth siblings Magenta and Riff-Raff.

Back in New York, Nehls started prepping for a cabaret act, only to find himself oddly compelled to write songs about . . . trailer parks. He asked Kelso, a longtime comic, to write the book.

"I said no - I had no idea how to do that."

Somehow, she learned. And while it's the rare musical that features an operatically trained bass-baritone as a toll collector - Tony winner Shuler Hensley, showing great comic chops after his villainous turn in "Oklahoma" - the "Trailer Park" crew believes it takes all kinds.

"There's room for everything," Kelso says. "It can't be all 'Hairspray,' and it can't be all 'Light in the Piazza.' If you're not going to offer variety, Broadway will die."

For now, they're happy to take on off-Broadway - now that their show is finally about to open.

"The cast from 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' sent us a big basket full of Twinkies, Ho Hos and candy cigarettes on Sept. 22," Nehls says, of their previous opening date.

Did they send it back?

"Absolutely not!" he howls. "Those Ho Hos went!"

Copyright 2004 NYP Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

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