Just in time for World Pride celebrations comes Camp Morning Wood, a quirky new nudie musical full of bouncy tunes, cheeky good humor and glitter that gets everywhere. It stars an attractive cast getting into some pretty hairy situations in the woods. Following in the footsteps of revues like Oh, Calcutta! and Naked Boys Singing, Camp Morning Wood takes it up a notch by incorporating nudity into a real plot.
The story is thoroughly contemporary: Randy (Alex Gagné), a recently tenured professor of Colonial Queer Studies at Columbia, is engaged to Gabe (Tim Garnham), an actor-waiter who got a little too into the Grindr trick at their last threesome. A couples counselor has suggested a weekend in the country, but when their Jeep breaks down in the middle of nowhere, the Manhattanites are lost, frightened and without cell-phone service. They stumble upon a Britney Spears shrine at a gay nudist camp and soon find themselves among the naked happy campers, as well as an uptight, clothed Republican, Senator Snatch (Courtney Dease). He’s a fundamentalist Christian who has arranged for the mountain getaway to be sold to a mining company and razed for a new megachurch.
The cast is young and enthusiastic. Gagné and Garnham as the tortured fiancés bring panache and sincerity to their performances. Brady Vignes as the flirty, effervescent Jacques is the French ringleader-cum-tantric masseur of the campers. His hard-partying boyfriend Kincaid (Michael Witkes) worries the rest of the group, who sense he’s up to no good. Anthony Logan Cole plays Hunter, a growling leather bear, and Ethan Gwynn is Titus, an African-American Ph.D. who is fetishized for his endowments.
The witty book and lyrics are by Joe Falzone with music by Bobby Cronin, Will Shishanian, Matt Gumley, James Dobinson and Derrick Byars. The score is a compendium of modern Broadway and synth-pop styles, both knowing and clever. “Rise and Shine!” is the buoyant tune the campers sing while frolicking in the Morning Wood meadow. Snatch’s “Ballad of the Righteous” lets the audience know that he’s a closet case via a slew of outrageous double entendres. Kincaid hilariously lip-syncs his entrance number, “It’s Just a Preference,” while aping the moves and aesthetics of Britney et al. Only “B.B.C.” falls uncomfortably flat. Kudos for poking fun at the gay obsession with large penises, but the number dangerously approaches minstrelsy.
Director Mark Eardley keeps the pacing up and the energy high, using silhouettes against a cyclorama for sporadic dramatic visuals. But the physical production in general could be sharpened. Jay Falzone and Ian Coulter-Buford’s choreography features humorous naked aerobics and kick lines, but there could be more focus on the use of space. The most discernible style to Izzy Field’s costumes and David McQuillen Robertson’s set (other than that it’s on a budget) is a gay bar aesthetic via the actors’ sequined short-shorts and angel wings. Although musicians are credited in the program, the score sounds noticeably recorded.
Ultimately, the show captures what it means to be a gay man in 2019. Self-acceptance and self-love are high on the list; so is the importance of community. Marriage is no longer a heterosexual convention best left to straights. But what to do with two male sex drives in one relationship when the biological imperative is to “sow the seed”? Now that commitment is legal, sexual fidelity is the heterosexual convention up for grabs. Or as Randy sings, “You like dick but don’t be a dick!” And, in a real sign of the times, there is no mention of HIV or AIDS in the show. If any of the characters are positive or on PreP, it’s not discussed.
With HIV and AIDS on the periphery, the enemies now are the right-wing zealots who preach selectively against sin and enact laws to deny rights. The enemies are also internal: demigod Kincaid is a classic “user,” extending his youth as he nears its expiration date and feeling no shame about throwing shade on lesser gay mortals. He sings, “Gays like us/ Float above the rest/ We deserve and we’ll get/ The absolute best.”
At first glance, Camp Morning Wood is silly, frivolous fun, but any awkwardness to the enterprise is quickly swept aside by the performers’ joyous lack of inhibition: the actors, who include Brian Songy, Sean Stephens and Nick Cartusciello in multiple roles, revel in being comfortable in their own skin. The show ends with an empowering message about loving yourself and others enough to let it all hang out.
Camp Morning Wood runs through July 7 at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (416 W 42nd St.) Evening performances are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and at 10 p.m. Saturday; matinees are at 5:30 p.m. Saturday and at 1 and 5:30 p.m. on Sunday. For tickets and information, visit campmorningwoodthemusical.com.