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Oakland Community College Production Draws on Students, Faculty, Community

Director Dennis North says 'The Great American Trailer Park Musical' veers away from last year's more serious line-up of shows produced on the Orchard Ridge campus in Farmington Hills.

You don't often see pink flamingos on a theater stage, but you will during this weekend's Oakland Community College (OCC) production of The Great American Trailer Park Musical, on stage at the Orchard Ridge campus' Smith Theater in Farmington Hills.

Director Dennis North says the show, written by David Nehls and Betsy Kelso and musical directed by OCC professor Tom Dennis, involves not only student actors, but also faculty members and community residents. It represents quite a change from last season's line-up, which included Neil LaBute's The Shape of Things, a dark comedy about how far one man is willing to go for love. 

"We got a little heavy with it," North said. "This year, I kind of went the other way. With everything that's happening, we just need to laugh a little bit." 

Trailer Park Musical offers of plenty of laughs, from the first scene, where the audience meets a cast of characters who live in Armadillo Acres Trailer Park in north Florida. There's Jeannie, who hasn't left her trailer since her baby got kidnapped and she got a bad perm 20 years ago, and her husband, Norbert, who just wants to take Jeanne to see the Ice Capades in honor of their 20th anniversary. 

But that's just the beginning of the fun, which includes a run-away stripper, a hysterically pregnant young woman, a crazy love triangle and some catchy tunes. OCC French instructor Kathryn Stewart-Hoffmann plays trailer park manager "Betty", who has a secret buried in someone else's backyard.

"Betty's very happy," Stewart-Hoffmann said. "She loves her life, she chooses not to think much about moving away. I think she's probably the most grounded person in the entire cast."

Lilli Bishop, a Brighton High School graduate, plays "Jeannie" who she says is "just scared. She has built up walls stronger than any trailer's been made of." Jeannie's agoraphobic world is about "love versus fear". 

"She's happy to be part of her community, even if she doesn't really participate," Bishop said. 

Dick Ward of Walled Lake plays Jeannie's long-suffering husband "Norbert", "a good guy who loves his wife, but he messes up, he has an affair with a stripper, and that sets all sorts of things in motion." Ward said Norbert is a sweet, devoted man at heart, but in an "incredibly loveless marriage". 

Norbert turns to stripper "Pippi", played by Madison Hunter of Southfield, but she's being pursued by her ex-boyfriend "Duke", played by James Schmidt of Troy. And like everyone else in this show, there's more to Duke than meets the eye.

"He's not just a marker-sniffing guy bent on revenge," Schmidt says of his character. 

Royal Oak resident Samantha Garrett plays "Pickles", a hysterically pregnant 17-year-old who is married to a "fancy guy from Jacksonville". Garrett describes her character as "sweet and naive and so utterly stupid, but she sees the best in everything." 

North expanded the 7-member cast in script to 12 members, adding a few characters to the trailer park community. Chris Chase of Waterford, who plays "Delbert", says all the actors get along very well. "We have a lot of fun," he said. 

Choreographer Barbara Selinger, who is a Farmington Hills resident and artistic director of DDC Dances, said she has enjoyed the opportunity to do community theater. 

"It's a challenge," she said. "I've really enjoyed working with the artists involved, the musicians and the performers. I think it's just wonderful to work with young artists who are open." 

Selinger's partner in creating the choreography, Samantha Foster of Ortonville, said she's never seen anything like The Great American Trailer Park Musical. When she heard the song "Flushed Down the Pipes", she said, "I knew we were going to have a dance with plungers." 

The Great American Trailer Park Musical plays Nov. 15-17, with performances at 8 p.m. each night. Tickets are $8, $5 for seniors 60 and over, and are available at the box office or by calling 248-522-3666. Be sure to check out the lobby display, which features art by OCC students. 

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