Meet the writer: David Nehls

Have you ever wondered about the process for writing a musical? We have too, and we were lucky enough to get to sit down with one of the authors of our upcoming production of The Great American Trailer Park Musical – David Nehls  (who wrote the music and lyrics) – about the development of this hilarious and exiting production.

Equinox: Where did this wonderful, funky, hilarious show come from?
David Nehls: Well it all started while I was on the road with The Rocky Horror Show and Betsy Kelso (book writer) and I were both playing Riff Raff and Magenta. We would have these bus trips through Europe that were really long and tedious sometimes, and we just started ripping off of certain things and we would make up these stupid, stupid musicals. One was called One Ball Betsy about, this is just the strangest thing, about a woman who had testicles and she only had one. But it was a full-on musical and we wrote it on the bus. When we had gotten off of this one leg of the tour, I was going to do a show at Don’t Tell Mamas. I used to this drag character named Ida Ho. And we were going to do this show with Ida Ho in a trailer park. As we were working on it, we were going to do some original songs. And then I was like, ‘Well I have a whole lot of original songs, actually, that I could write.’ Then I started writing other songs and I was like, ‘I don’t think this is a Cabaret show.’

‘Do you want to write this?’ And she said, ‘No.’”

So I got a hold of Betsy, who was in New York at the time, and I said, ‘Do you want to write this?’ And she said, ‘No.’ And I said, ‘Well just think about this theme and here are some songs, and just tie them together with some things.’ Because she was doing a lot of sketch comedy at the time, and her sketch comedy stuff was out of this world. And then within a week we had our first draft. And that’s where it came from.

E: Did you have any idea that it would find such a following all over the country?
DN: Yeah. No, of course not. I mean, we had our friends who were all actors. Some of them off Broadway and Broadway shows at the time, and national tours, and we started doing readings. At the time when it was first read, there was like 14 characters. It was huge. We would do readings at this place called the Sanford Meisner theater, which is this a little store front theater way down by the piers, on the west side of Lower Manhattan. We would do it maybe twice a year and it started to get a bit of a following. And then Betsy’s standup started getting a following. She was with an all-female group called The Shirley Chicken Pants Players. They started to get a lot of traction in and around Manhattan.

By about 2002 we were doing these kind of high end workshops and readings at Playwrights Horizons and at The Roundabout. Then it kind of fell apart a little bit. We had worked with a director who was not the best fit and he made us make a lot of changes that just didn’t fit the piece. He wanted it to be like a shock piece. And we did a reading from that and it was just, it was like a big bomb had gone off in the theater, it was awful. So, we went away from it for a few years and then had the opportunity to do NYMF (The New York Musical Festival). Betsy and I got back to work. And we rewrote the thing again, and did NYMF, and then the next thing you know we’re off Broadway.

then the next thing you know we’re off Broadway.”

E: We love the whole soundtrack to this show, but what is your favorite song, if you had to pick just one?
DN: Okay, Storm’s a Brewing, hands down.  I just think, it’s so… It’s Raining Men is one of my favorite songs, and we pay homage to that clearly. And just the fact that we ramp up to that number at the end of the first half, I love the shock value of it. I love the like gut busting laughing that I’ve seen people in the audiences give out when they see these characters you’ve come to know, suddenly break out and then be so stupid, and outrageous. Hopefully the costumes are outrageous. It’s a fun number. When I was doing the show in New York, it was fun to play it. It was just a really fun group.

E: Why do you think audiences connect to this show so well?
DN: I was a paper boy and I would deliver papers every day to this trailer court in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. And they were the nicest people on my route. They were cool, they were funny, they knew exactly who they were. They were smart and they were kind. That’s who these people are to me. These people and this community and the fact that it is about a community. I think people respond very strongly to a sense of community. We lose that in our society a bit nowadays, because of our phones and our computers and then our Netflix and everything. So this sense of community, right in front of you, that you are, by the end of the show, you’re part of that community too. I think it’s a real positive.

The Great American Trailer Park Musical runs August 9 through 31 at The Bug Theatre! Get your tickets now and join us for this hilarious summer musical!

*all photos of original off-Broadway production