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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
Now it's resurfaced under the auspices of the Vineyard Theater. While plenty of shows that premiered at the Vineyard's regular home on Union Square have been moved uptown (How I Learned t Drive, Avenue Q, The Scottsboro Boys, The Lyons, and more), those moves have been for Broadway transfers.
This first Vineyard premiere at a home away from home, the Acorn on Theater Row, has been given a high level production. Besides a new group of energetic fatties moving as if they were stylishly slim, it features several Broadway veterans: Leslie Kritzer and Burke Moses as the camp counselors Sandy and Mike and Andrew Durand as Brent, the skinny former camper and now a fat hating staffer who's the villain of the piece.
I didn't see the developmental production so can't tell you just what besides director, cast and creative team has been changed. Robert Grisetti, now played by Max Wilcox, is still the wittiest, most rebellious kid at a seedy weight-loss camp for teens. It's dubbed Camp Overton for a gotcha w wink which is rather typical of the humor you can expect.
Judging from the audience response at the more high profile production's pre-opening performance I attended, enough people will, as our Festival critic did, find this permutation a barrel of fun. They clearly welcomed the way Blair and co-librettist Tim Drucker have used the failure to adapt to their camp's mission of weight loss to once again show summer camp as a place for building and rebuilding self-confidence.
The current generously proportioned campers, like the original oness, are indeed fleet footed; and, true to the title, they bring gigantic voices to Matthew roi Berger's pop-rock score. Timothy R. Mackabee has done a good job creating a flexible set with a nice woodsy feel and some clever touches, like a blue cloth turned into a pool for one of the campers to jump into during color wars. Gregory Gale's costumes are also fun.
However, I can't say that the creators efforts to unearth fresh, fizzy humor from the cliches of bunk house life captivated me as much as some of the people around me. (There were several times I thought the young woman sitting next to me would fall off her seat from laughing so hard).
The show as much as the kids at Camp Overton needs to be slimmed down. Scott Schwartz smoothly directs the frantic doings but at two hours plus intermission, there's just too much fat. Ditto for Chase Brock's choreography which is lively but repetitive. The music is catchy but hardly memorable enough to justify so much of it that you could almost describe Gigantic as a sung-through.
There are also some scenes which seem thrown in rather than organic. In one instance, a distraught Robert Grisetti, like Little Red Riding Hood, comes face to face with a strange bearded character. This is followed by a fantasy dance scene in which the ensemble morphs into life-sized animals. The garbage bag costumes are the only claim to cleverness for a pointless sketch inspired by The Crucible.
But the biggest problem for me is the acoustical overkill. Blair's lyrics don't deserve to be drowned out by both musicians and singers. Why or why, do performers in a theater as small as the Acorn need head mikes?
The performers are all past their teens, which is most obvious with Larry Owens, a holdover from the 2009 production. Max Wilcox and Ryann Redmond are engaging as the campers going through the most change. And Leslie Kritzer does her best with Sandy, the former fat girl who's now a compulsive exerciser.
I love the theater row complex and the Vineyard's many bold shows. But this musical just doesn't strike me as the gigantic hit it wants to be.