Why do people find fat funny? That is one of the questions provoked by “Gigantic,” a musical originally entitled “Fat Camp,” about a summer camp for overweight teenagers.
To be fair, the show, which has opened at Theatre Row as a Vineyard Theatre production, seems to mean well. Like innumerable teen/high school comedies on TV and in the movies, “Gigantic” ultimately offers a life-affirming message – in this case, as rebel Robert (Max Wilcox) sings:
It’s true, I’m fat
And I fail to see what’s wrong with that.
If anything, its focus on fatness distinguishes a show that is in many other ways indistinguishable from all those other teen comedies.
Please click on any photograph by Carol Rosegg to see it enlarged.
Gigantic’s propulsive if mostly generic-sounding rock score leads us through a plot that is an accumulation of stock scenes running the gamut from juvenile to sophomoric, with an occasional detour into sentimental. Its cast is asked to portray familiar teen comedy types. In the unsubtly named Camp Overton, the two adults in charge are an over-eager, over-sexed couple; there’s a camp slut, a “thuggy black kid” (as the character is described in the script) who becomes buddies with a “Jewish nerd in a Jedi outfit,”; an obnoxious, braggart of a junior counselor who was formerly fat and is the villain; a Goth girl; even a trio of mean girl cheerleaders.
Yet, “Gigantic” is not a completely witless exercise. For all its easy superficiality, it offers what one senses are some hard-earned observations about life as an adolescent in general – the bravado, insecurity, awkwardness, and small triumphs. In the song First Kiss, Robert, who has pretended to be an experienced ladies man, is challenged to a truth or dare make-out session with the object of his affection Taylor (Ryann Redmond):
Where do you put your nose
when you’re kissing a girl? Do you go left or right?
This isn’t how I planned.
I forget how they do it in movies
and there was never a nose
on the back of my hand.
Taylor has her own interior solo, and then, when the two finally do the act, they engage in a charming duet.
The show also seems to understand the special stigma and particular public humiliations attached to teenagers who are considered fat.
The best thing about “Gigantic” is the opportunity it gives to performers with out-sized talents and regular-people bodies. It’s hard to point to any particular players as stand outs, since all 15 cast members are accomplished singers and both winning and willing actors. I found myself regretting that “Gigantic” had not taken advantage of such talent to present characters with depth and originality, people with interesting stories to tell, a la “A Chorus Line.”
Perhaps the creative team intends “Gigantic” not as a standard-issue teen comedy, but a spoof of such a comedy. After all, they show a clear-cut predilection and gift for outlandish satire in a few scenes, when they use Camp Overton’s talent show as an excuse to put on a brief but knowing musical spoof of “The Crucible” (and a briefer and less knowing bio-musical spoof of President William Howard Taft.) But if satire was their intent, they should have realized that teen comedies are as bankrupt a conduit for true wit as fat jokes.
A Vineyard Theatre production at Theatre Row’s Acorn Theater
Lyrics by: Randy Blair
Music by: Matthew roi Berger
Book by Randy Blair and Tim Drucker
Scott Schwartz (director) Chase Brock (choreographer) Timothy R. Mackabee (scenic design) Gregory Gale (costume design) Jeff Croiter (lighting design) John Shivers & David Patridge (sound design) Dominick Amendum (music supervision, arrangements and orchestrations) Aaron Jodoin (musical direction)
Cast: Andrew Durand, Jennifer Geller, Leslie Kritzer, Katie Ladner, Jared Loftin, Taylor Louderman, Bonnie Milligan, Burke Moses, Larry Owens, Cole Ragsdale, Ryann Redmond, MiMi Scardulla, Nyla Watson, Kalyn West, Max Wilcox
Running time: 2 hours and 10 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.
Gigantic is scheduled to run through December 20, 2015