68.8 percent of The United States is obese. And now, one of New York City’s off-Broadway shows is as well– in all senses of the word.
Gigantic is a new musical by Randy Blair and Tim Drucker with music by Matthew roi Berger, that tracks young obese teenagers’ journey through a summer at Camp Overton, a summer camp for obese adolescents that have either chosen to lose weight or were forced to do so by their parents. With the sophomoric air of High School Musical and the explicit language and humor of a R-rated Adam Sandler movie, every aspect of this show is engaging in some heavy-lifting in order to please the audience. Unfortunately, rather than intentionally, and seamlessly integrating great aspects of art together, the production accidentally has combined potent ingredients that don’t work well on the palate.
Taylor, an obese teen (Ryann Redmond) shows up to Camp Overton on day one with a “can-do” attitude, as she has worked at Starbucks all year to save enough money to save enough money to pay her way to this camp for the corpulent. In contrast to her stands Robert (Max Wilcox), a young overweight boy who wants nothing more than to get kicked out of this hell-hole. A romance buds between the aforementioned Taylor and Robert, as he climbs the social ladder at the camp, controlling the “underground candy trading ring.” Standing in his way are the middle-aged camp-owning power couple that had a little too much Red Bull (a negligible Burke Moses, and the insanely talented Leslie Kritzer) who are facing a daunting fiscal challenge in saving the camp from closure by not meeting weight loss quotas– and also for some reason are 15-years engaged.
In a strange compilation of events, the skinny cheerleaders from the camp across the lake come over and engage an Olympic-like competition that involves the camp coming together and wearing their weight like a badge of honor while they swim, potato sack race, and perform in the talent portion of the event (which for my money, can be deemed the first ever Hamilton reference in the American Musical Theatre. The plot is as patchy as it sounds.
What the musical lacks is a way of synthesizing this humor, singing, and great character work into an actual theatrical event. Don’t get me wrong, it is ridiculously entertaining. I made a fool of myself laughing and smiling through the whole thing, but despite it’s plot, it lacks story. Not that this lacking kills the show. The music by Matthew roi Berger is “foot-tapping” and in many cases “head-nodding.” The performances are sterling. Again, Leslie Kritzer is a show-stealer who, unlike all the other scenery-chewers out there in the industry today, who deserves every moment she gets and uses every moment with a precision that will having you screaming in laughter. She needs to be Fanny Brice— yesterday. Ryann Redmond plays with precision and pipes of gold and is a delightful is a star in her own right. And the emerging Katie Ladner is a divine stage presence who has a new, fresh, and insanely interesting take on comedy.
Again, this show is delightfully entertaining, but it ironically lacks sustenance or the “meat and potatoes” of the theatre. It the kind of theatre that lacks a thesis, and if you’ll pardon the pun, with such a heavy topic as the socially-relevant childhood obesity in America, how can you fail to take a stance on it. Rather we sat through funny social media jokes and sat in a stagnant pool of commentary with the potential to be something much more effervescent and provocative. This misfire of the theatre is shockingly common in new off-Broadway works, drawing my mind back to last year’s Clinton the Musical. I suppose we will continue to wait for a new off-broadway musical that reminds us that comedy is more than just laughter.
Gigantic – Book by Randy Blair and Tim Drucker, Music by Matthew roi Berger, Lyrics by Randy Blair, Choreographed by Chase Brock, Directed by Scott Schwartz.
WITH: Max Wilcox (Robert), Leslie Kritzer (Sandy), Burke Moses (Mike), Nyla Watson (Vanessa), Larry Owens (Darnell), Mimi Scardulla (Lydia), Jared Loftin (Anshel), Cole Ragsdale (Tank), Bonnie Milligan (Daphne), Ryann Redmond (Taylor), Andrew Durand (Brent), Katie Ladner (Britta), Taylor Louderman (Ashley), Kalyn West (Marlie), Jennifer Geller (Aspen).
Sets by Timothy R Mackabee; costumes by Gregory Dale; lighting by Jeff Croiter; sound by John Shivers & David Patridge;music supervision, arrangements, and orchestrations by Dominick Amendum; music direction by Aaron Jodoin; additional arrangements by Jason DeBord; dance arrangements by Rob Berman; hair and makeup by Leah J Loukas; production stage manager, Christine Catti. Presented by The Vineyard Theatre, Douglas Albel & Sarah Stern, producing artistic directors; Jennifer Garvey-Blackwell, executive producer. At The Acorn Theatre, Theatre Row; 212-353-0303, www.vinyardtheatre.org. Open Run. Running time: 2 hours 10