Bunked!: A New Musical
nytheatre.com review by Stephen Kaliski
August 17, 2010
If spring didn't awaken you, summer will surely drag you out of bed with the arrival of Bunked!, a smiley new musical about dire teen angst set at a summer camp. Grinning its way through the tumultuous limbo between parody and earnestness, the current version of this enterprise amounts to little more than a cocktail of references to the better works that inspired it.
Bunked! is an odd choice for FringeNYC, a festival noted for giving artistically daring but commercially homeless projects the presentation they need for further development. If nothing else, Bunked! already has its commercial attack well in place: a bit of Spring Awakening, a lot of Rent, a sponsorship from the gay-themed MTV spinoff LogoTV, and a vocal cameo from Ugly Betty star Michael Urie to pad the press packet. What this musical will need if it wants to move forward is a heart of its own and not the pressure, like the kind felt by its five angsty camp counselors, to fit in with everybody else.
Summer is here, and it's time for Camp Timberlake! The first two counselors, Oliver (Tim Ehrlich) and Anabel (Amanda Jane Cooper), are twins who have nothing in common. The openly gay Oliver flaunts his sexuality and films a video blog, while Anabel has never been kissed and never tasted beer. Like the myriad camp dweebs before her, she also plays the clarinet.
Both are attracted to Stewart (Ben Moss), a pansexual who's into both Zac and Miley but is mostly worried about his impending doom at evil Dartmouth, an apparently dreadful place his parents are forcing him to attend.
And then there's Carmen (Lizzie Klemperer), the surly type who's especially down of late because her brother recently died. To complicate things, she falls for Max (Jake Loewenthal), a perfect guy who's been told by his doctors that his "heart condition" will either kill him tomorrow or maybe—fingers crossed—let him live a full life.
Just when we're ready to bounce along with Bunked! as a farce, writers Alaina Kunin and Bradford Proctor slam us with this sort of calculated melodrama as a reminder that teen self discovery is serious stuff. Unfortunately, because the serious stuff never gets more detailed than such vague categories of pain as "heart condition," Bunked! feels less like a story than a coming-of-age cliche montage.
The news is slightly better on the musical front, where the game cast belts swirling rounds with passion if not total clarity. Kunin and Proctor's lyrics, however, remain simplistic and contrived throughout, with such centerpiece lines as "Labels aren't for people / They're for clothes" and "Find a way / Day by day".
From the cast of five, Loewenthal acquits himself best, filling the irresistible Max with buoyant enthusiasm. Cooper's deft comic timing lands more jokes than it should, but the production unfairly restricts this spunky blond to channeling Kristin Chenoweth. Her main number, "Hot Mess," might as well be a remix of Wicked's "Popular."
Under Seth Sikes's direction and Paul Depoo's colorful but static set, the actors have little to do but form the "Seasons of Love" line over and over. Flourishes of choreography periodically enliven things, which made me wonder: if this play wants to borrow so liberally from Spring Awakening, why not borrow its exhilarating physical language?
To unearth the full potential of Bunked!, the creators should veer away from the overdone "live in the present" sincerity at its core and embrace what audiences crave when they see a musical about summer camp: pure camp.