Mark Eardley’s new Off-Broadway musical Camp Morning Wood: A Very Naked Musical opened two days ago at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater at Playwright’s Horizon, 416 West 42nd Street. We saw the late afternoon matinee today and came away both amused and intrigued.
And glad we went.
Though the book and lyrics, both by Jay Falzone, need polish, there are enough highlights to overcome the rough spots and to assure that Falzone, who I assume is still working on this musical, can iron them out. The self-referential playfulness of some of the lyrics can get in the way of the songs and the neat plot twist at the end could be handled with a better sense of actual, rather than silly and contrived, history.
Though nudity is foregrounded in this show about a gay nudist camp being forced to close, there isn’t much about the show that’s titillating, which might disappoint some in the audience but that actually makes for a stronger show. The actors’ bodies are not uniformly sculpted but are aggressively human and various–a major point of the plot. Pretty quickly, one gets used to them and pays more attention to the story. Sex is a theme of the show but this is not a sexy show.
Camp Morning Wood is, however, a campy show, and it starts with a nod to the even more campy Rocky Horror Show, with an engaged couple, Randy and Gabe (played lovingly by Alex Gagne and Tim Garnham), lost in the woods on a stormy night. This couple, however, instead of coming upon a haunted mansion, stumbles into a gay nudist camp.
It’s about to be closed, to be replaced by a mega-church and an oil refinery. Jacques (Brady Vignes), the faux-Frenchman who runs the place, gets to perform perhaps the best of the songs, “Rise and Shine” (with music by Bobby Cronin, one of five credited songwriters). He has given up trying to save his camp and simply wants one last weekend there. His love interest, the beautiful and vain Kincaid (Michael Witkes), turns out to have recently been part of a threesome with Randy and Gabe, a threesome that had put a strain on their relationship necessitating their getaway trip to the country.
The second really memorable song of the is “A BBC’s Lament” (music by Derrick Byars) and sung by Titus (Ethan Gwynn–more on him in a moment) The star voice in the musical, though, is that of the massive Hunter (Anthony Logan Cole), by far the most polished performer of the bunch.
This show needs work, and a lot of it, but it contains great possibility. Its points about relationships and body identities are serious and well presented–even within a rather campy and sometimes silly onstage milieu. The idea of making nudity the subject but not the object of the musical works well, even if it might disappoint the few who may show up hoping for a parade of sexy bodies (though there certainly are some).
I hope that director Eardley and his team keep working on improving what they have. The germ for a fine show is buried in what they have, and the creative talent is as clearly present.
The cast is impressive. There’s not a weak spot among it and it works well as an ensemble, members picking up when props fail, for example, without missing a beat.
Camp Morning Wood is for those interested in the future, not for those who want to see only the polished work of seasoned pros. The talents exhibited by its cast, its director and its writers are strong even if a bit raw as yet. Even if this musical does not fulfill the promise I think it contains, some of the people in it may soon find themselves in great demand–though not generally, I suspect (and probably much to their relief), as sex objects.
They are making nudity boring again, and serious (even within the humor)–and that’s a commendable goal.
Now, back to Ethan Gwynn. We have known him since he was a child and he stayed with us for part of the time he studied dance at the Alvin Ailey School. We have grown close to him and try as best we can to promote his career. We would have cheered Ethan even if the show were a dud and his part a disaster, so much do we love him. We knew that Camp Morning Wood was having a rocky start and entered the theater this afternoon with more than a bit of trepidation. We left relieved and cheered: The two hour show had flown by and we had enjoyed ourselves–even while recognizing that this musical has a ways to go before it can call itself a finished product.