It is the first day at Camp Overton, the third best weight loss camp in Southern Pennsylvania. Counselor-owners Sandy (Leslie Kritzer) and Mike (Burke Moses) are nervous because the camp will be inspected on August 17 and they need the campers to have shed many pounds. This year’s campers are a motley crew including slutty Daphne (Bonnie Milligan) back for her third summer after bingeing all year, YouTube celebrity Darnell (Larry Owens) preparing for a gastric bypass by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, Taylor (Ryann Redmond) who has worked all year at Starbucks to order to be here and change her shape and self-image, and nerdy Anshel (Jared Loftin) who thought he was on the way to Star Wars camp. And then there is rebellious Robert (Max Wilcox) who has been coerced into attending and plans on breaking all the rules in order to get kicked out.
Among the scheduled events for the summer are the weekly weigh-ins, the Blubber Free Ball, Color War and the Talent competition. Almost immediately, Robert convinces Darnell and Anshell to help him break into the kitchen and help themselves to the confiscated candy to sell to their fellow campers in order to become popular. However, when he is attracted to Taylor and Darnell is romanced by Daphne, Robert settles down to the routines – but not before ticking off camp poster boy and junior counselor Brent (Andrew Durand), the nephew of Mike who has lost 200 pounds to achieve his buff body. When Brent discovers that Robert’s “so-called” cheerleader girlfriend Ashley (Taylor Louderman) is at the Pennsylvania All-State Training Camp next door, he hatches a plan to bring Robert down.
Some of the humor is hilarious as when one color war team turns The Crucible into a musical and another does a send up of Hamilton. The show also has its failures: a parody of Michael Jackson’s Thriller with Kritzer as a hillbilly living in the woods with a chorus line of zombie puppets falls on its face. However, it’s all in good clean fun and the message comes through loud and clear: you have to be able to live with your self-image or do something about changing it.
The cast is made up of serious characters, comic charicatures and those intended as role models. Redmond as conventional Taylor and Wilcox as rebellious Robert are ultimately endearing as two conflicted teenagers who find their way. Owens as YouTube Darnell is a bundle of energy as is Milligan as slutty Daphne who doesn’t much care what people think of her. Kritzer’s Sandy and Moses’ Mike, engaged 15 years, are amusing as caricatures of authority figures. As the mean-spirted Brent, the buff Durant is in a category all his own as he plots to get his revenge, while Katie Ladner as his freaky sister Britta captures all of the qualities of darkest adolescence. Nyla Watson as Vanessa Williams, no, not the Miss America, has the best lines. Louderman, West and Geller offer all of the clichés of the hot cheerleaders who have no use for overweight people.
The all wood-set by Timothy R. Mackabee has the authentic rustic look of summer camp, while Gregory Gale’s costumes for this disparate group of teenagers is often over the top. Music director Aaron Jodoin obtains a wonderful sound out of the six piece band playing the arrangements and orchestrations of Dominick Amendum with additional arrangements by Jason DeBord. John Shivers & David Patridge’s sound design is surprisingly crystal clear considering the high decibel of much of the score. The choreography by Chase Brock defies the reality that most of the performers are plus-sized.
Gigantic has no pretentions as to being anything but an entertaining musical comedy on a subject not so often handled in the theater. An authentic cast convincingly playing teenagers plus a dynamic score makes this a feel-good musical evening in the theater.
Gigantic (through December 20, 2015)
The Vineyard Theatre
Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-947-8844 or visit http://www.vineyardtheatre.org/gigantic/
Running time: two hours and 15 minutes including one intermission