by Matt Smith
“We leave our judgment at the gate / there’s no fight and no debate / the only thing we hate is hate…”
Such is the expressive and resonant motto of Camp Morning Wood, the vibrant, naturalistic setting of the show that bears its name, now playing at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater through July 7th.
The story follows the newly-engaged Gabe (Tim Garnham) and Randy (Alex Gagné), in a relationship plagued by pettiness, who, in an attempt to disconnect from suburbia and straighten out their issues in the countryside, unexpectedly stumble upon the titular nudist getaway when their car breaks down en route.
Grappling with their own mixed reactions toward the goings-on at the camp itself, they soon discover the grounds personnel is in a predicament of their own when an uber-conservative senator threatens to bulldoze their beloved haven.
The material — and how it’s handled — elicits an indulgently campy, albeit raunchy(er), Book of Mormon vibe, with Gabe and Randy going through a similar plight to both of Mormon’s central Elders. The cast, on that note, holds their own to any and all Broadway comparisons, with Garnham in particularly good voice in a hilarious musical ode to separation anxiety from a burner phone.
The lyrics, and, likewise, the written dialogue, are equally smart and snappy, deftly crafted to be not-so-subtly peppered with the inevitable suggestive euphemism here or there (the senators advise to “fill our holes” engulfed with prejudice and sin, while the camp staff likens their oasis to “a veggie garden with a much more appetizing crop,” among other double entendres).
The music itself, a variety of styles from a host of independent composers, set to lyrics by Jay Falzone, ain’t half-bad either, particularly those from Broadway vet Matt Gumley, whose nod to the French can-can is frankly irresistible, and that gosh-darn infectious, and appropriately recurring, title anthem, penned by known composer Bobby Cronin.
Perhaps alluding to the other lesser elements of the evening, the set is quite minimal, and the cast utilizes it well, the clever composition of tree branches, and self-referential one-liners (“A lantern! Our props guy must have left this here!”) among the highlights.
And while, on the surface, the plot may seem more than paper-thin (and, as a result, the eventual denouement rather predictable), but despite any shortcomings story-wise, rest assured that the heart and its message of acceptance and equal rights for all imparts rings loud and clear throughout the evening.
And then, of course, there’s the nudity. Though admittedly a bit jarring at first, it soon becomes transparent, and almost unnoticeable as the evening goes on. Perhaps that’s because, as you immerse yourself in the story, you realize (though it does centralize the action and provide ammo for many a penile one-liner), it’s not about the nudity at all. It’s there — and unavoidable — but it’s not nearly the main focus of the performance. That aspect concerns all the heavy stuff — body dysmorphia, offering second chances, and accepting yourself (and each other) as you are.
In that sense, the evening — both within and outside the limits of the storyline — is about normalizing what may be considered outlandish and frowned upon, depending on who you are, and getting outside your comfort zone enough to be comfortable with getting outside your comfort zone.
And when you, as an audience member, realize and accept that, and subsequently relax into it and give in to the experience for what it is, you too, much like Gabe and Randy, will discover the true joy and truer freedom in embracing your authenticity and, aptly, “baring it all.”
Photo Credit: Michael Wiltbank
Camp Morning Wood: A Very Naked Musical plays the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (416 W. 42nd Street, 4th Floor) through July 7th; Marc Eardley directs. For tickets and/or more information, please visit www.campmorningwoodthemusical.com.