Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Theater Review: Fat Camp

Location: The Acorn Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street, NY, NY

Website: Official NYMF site

Starring: Randy Blair, Ryah Nixon, Cale Krise, Larry Owens, Carly Jibson, Sarah Saltzberg, Clarke Thorell

My Review: The New York Musical Theatre Festival is currently underway, so you have limited time to check out dozens of new shows hoping to get noticed and offered bigger opportunities, be it some constructive advice from theater veterans, a run in a Broadway theater, or something in between. The festival has been compared to the Sundance Film Festival, and for good reason; both festivals give relatively unknown artists a chance to showcase their talents to a wide array of people that they would be unable to afford on their own. And much like at Sundance, the NYMF is a mixed bag; some performances show that there is incredible talent out there that just needs a break, while others show that there are good reasons why many artists remain unnoticed. Luckily for the plucky and highly entertaining musical Fat Camp, it falls solidly into the first group.

Fat Camp is a story about, well, fat camp. A group of teenagers in various stages of chubbiness head to Camp Overton (some voluntarily, others not so much) for a summer of sensible eating and routine exercise. Leading the pack is Robert, who doesn’t really care about his weight, but figures a summer at camp is better than a summer spent working at the Sunglass Hut with his hypercritical father. He immediately clashes with camp counselor Mike with his typical teen “you can’t make me” attitude, which makes him a star in the eyes of his fellow campers. Resident nice-but-shy girl Taylor is drawn to Robert’s dynamic personality, and when her sassy (and very loud) friend Daphne informs her that while boys may not notice them in the real world, “in here, we’re bangin’!”, she decides to take a chance and lets Robert know how she feels. Which all works out nicely, until counselor Mike (who’s still annoyed) throws a wrench into everyone’s enjoyable summer with a ploy that involves the aid of an obnoxious former fat kid camper, the world’s most awkward spying mission, and a neighboring cheerleading camp.

What struck me the most about Fat Camp was that while it was very funny, it also had a lot of heart. It would have been easy to let the show just become an endless string of fat jokes that we’ve all heard before, but instead it tells an actual story about a group of kids who happen to be overweight. They still deal with the same issues as every other teenager; annoying parents, unrequited crushes, bullies, longing to belong somewhere, and growing up enough to realize that it’s not all about them. Yes, there is a subplot about a candy smuggling operation, but since when has jonesing for candy only been a fat kid thing?

Randy Blair as Robert is the clear star of the show (as well as the writer) and plays the role of a teen overindulging in sudden popularity perfectly. As one of his posse members, Cale Krise is Anshel, who has to suffer the indignation of not only being fat, but also being as superdork (Star Wars references abound when Anshel is around and his mother actually follows him to camp to work in the cafeteria). But when he finds himself as a part of a group for the first time ever, his hilarious nerdy bliss is palpable to the audience. Ryah Nixon and Carly Jibson are Taylor and Daphne, who start as frenemies—smiling and laughing together, while each secretly declares the other one to be fatter than her—develop an actual friendship throughout the show, proving how important it is to always have someone who has your back. Another standout is Josh Segarra as Brent, a former fattie who is now all bulging biceps and defined abs who continues to attend Camp Overton (apparently for the sole purpose of torturing the new campers). Segarra relishes the role of playing an over-the-top teenage asshole, who—if you can bear to look back at high school—isn’t really that over-the-top after all.

The musical numbers are all well done, and while I don’t think the soundtrack will ever be a classic in showtune libraries, they serve the production well. Most of the music is very upbeat and catchy, and there are several high-energy dance numbers (the cast may be bigger than most other casts, but they can still move just as well). There really aren’t any standout tunes to bring mention to, as most are played more for laughs than poignancy, but while watching the show they fit flawlessly and work to both convey the characters’ feelings and move the plot along.

My only complaint about Fat Camp—and it’s a small one—is that Ryah Nixon, as camp sweetheart Taylor, is in no way fat. Yes, she’s meant to lose weight throughout the course of the show, but if that’s the route they want to stick with, they need to pad her up more at the beginning. From the first scene I was wondering why she was at Camp Overton as she’s merely a regular-sized girl with curves and breasts. And as a lifetime, card-carrying member of that particular group, I would never have shipped her off to fat camp.

Bottom Line: Fat Camp reminded me of The 25th Annual Putnam Country Spelling Bee, another excellent low-budget musical about a group of young misfits, who managed to work its way up to a Broadway theater. And if Spelling Bee found an audience, so can Fat Camp; it’s fun, it’s silly, it’s touching, and it’s a story anyone can relate to (even if weight isn’t your particular problem area). So catch it while you can during the festival, and hope that someone is smart enough to notice this band of misfits and give them a shot. They’re so much bigger than this festival (pun totally intended).

No comments:

Post a Comment