nytheatre.com review by Joshua Chase Gold
October 2, 2009
Fat Camp, which premiered this week as a part of NYMF, tells the story of Robert Grisetti, a rotund outcast, who is sentenced to a summer at Camp Overton with a horde of quirky misfits on a mission—to lose the extra poundage and gain some self-esteem. I really wanted to like this show. But it just fell short.
The story centers around Robert Grisetti (Randy Blair), a rock and roll star in his own mind, who is determined to rebel against carrot lunches and sunrise jogs. Grisetti immediately befriends Darnell (deliciously played by Larry Owens), who is a tough-talking, rap-listening, self-proclaimed "womanizer." Darnell and Robert, along with Anshel, the Jewish momma's boy, decide to woo the girls at camp with an underground chocolate-ring. In addition to Robert and Darnell's story, there is also a subplot with Anshel (played brilliantly by Cale Krise) and his mother—who becomes the camp's lunch lady because she can't be separated from her son. We meet Britta and Brent (twins—one fat and awkward, the other hot and mean), Daphne (the slutty camper), Taylor (the virgin), Sandy (the overenthusiastic counselor), Mike (the over-obsessed counselor), and a whole bevy of cheerleaders, moms, and other campers. And that's all in the first 20 minutes. In its current state, Fat Camp can't decide whose story it wants to tell. I found it difficult, not only to follow the stories, but also to care about the characters, because I found myself inundated with too many plot lines. Not until midway through Act II did I feel that the show finally had some focus.
The biggest problem with Fat Camp is the caricatures it creates. Going into a musical about fat kids trying to lose weight, I expected (and was looking forward to) a great deal of campiness. However, broadly drawn characters and an unspecific plot lend themselves to a messy evening. It was hard to tell whether some of Connor Gallagher's choreography and Alex Timbers's direction was under-rehearsed or just not effective, but at times it looked like there were a whole lot of people on stage not quite knowing what they were doing. Quite often I found myself offended (and that is hard to do) with the consistency of stock characters. It was hard to really care about anyone, because everyone was a cartoon. There was so little heart for a show that should be full of it!
Matthew roi Berger (music) and Randy Blair (lyrics) do have some great songs on their hands. Darnell sings a ridiculously hilarious song about cannonballing into the pool to help win the triathlon (yet another major plot point) that had me toe-tapping and smiling. Timbers's execution and Owens's commitment to the song are quite brilliant. By far the best song of the evening comes from Anshel, who sings to his mother at the end of the show. Krise's performance is priceless and he layers nuance with a very refined maturity. However, the book (written by Blair and Timothy Michael Drucker) seems rather hastily thrown together in an effort to connect a series of songs. And quite often, the book doesn't even effectively do that.
Fat Camp has a lot of promise. It is a really fun and unique idea, but it needs a lot of work. With focus on whose story is being told, a stronger book, and some re-imagining of characters who have heart, this show could really be something quite special.