- Associated Press - Friday, December 4, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) - As if being forced to go to a summer camp that wants to starve you isn’t bad enough, imagine finding yourself surrounded by a bunch of sullen, misfit teenagers and at the mercy of overly-perky or downright obnoxious counselors.

Such is the predicament of Robert (a very funny Max Wilcox, alternating bravado and uncertainty) and Taylor (an endearing portrayal by Ryann Redmond), who might or might not find teenage love, along with a fellow group of initially unhappy campers, in the new musical comedy “Gigantic.”

Scott Schwartz directs the bouncy, homespun production from Vineyard Theatre that opened Thursday night off-Broadway at Theatre Row’s Acorn Theatre. Randy Blair and Tim Drucker (both of “Perez Hilton Saves the Universe”) co-wrote the irreverent book, and the peppy, rock-tinged pop music is by Matthew roi Berger, with lyrics by Randy Blair.

Chase Brock (“Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark”) did the choreography, and Schwartz keeps the cast nimbly racing around the fairly small stage as the campers undergo forced exercise and cautiously befriend one another while in search of contraband food. Six musicians aloft provide a rocking accompaniment to the lyrics, which are often great fun. Campers are urged to “do a little sweating in a rural setting!/and the weight is over!”

Leslie Kritzer is impish perfection as too-perky Camp Overton co-owner Sandy. She and her partner Mike, (Burke Moses, hearty with a hint of hype), are running out of time to save the financially failing camp, but this particular group of teens, who could save the place by just losing some weight, are oddly not losing a single pound.

Andrew Durand is scene-stealingly nasty as Mike’s formerly overweight nephew Brent, now-“manorexic”, who contemptuously lords it over the other campers. Under Robert’s inspired leadership, though, the teens join forces. They have some tender coming-of-age moments while building self-esteem, and in some cases, trying to get laid.

The entire cast creates individual, often poignant personalities. Standouts include Robert’s awkward sister Britta, played with lisping petulance by Katie Ladner; Bonnie Milligan’s defiant, sensual antics as returning camper Daphne, who tries to put some sass into Taylor; and Taylor Louderman as the beautiful, confident cheerleader Ashley, who heads a trio of skinny girls from the camp next door.

Among all the summer camp-related jokes, most tucked into the lyrics, one of the most hilarious is a visual coup-de-costume from designer Gregory Gale. The smart-looking dresses in the snarky cheerleaders’ pilgrim sketch are made entirely of black and white garbage bags. One major distraction, though, is a spook-in-the-woods number in the second act that’s overly-elaborate but pointless to the plot.

Will the overweight kids end up, as one anthem is titled, “On Top of the World”? Well, this is a feel-good musical, and the final song is cautiously titled “Feels A Little Bit Like Love.” Some self-acceptance is bound to be achieved, with a lot of fun along the way.

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Online: http://www.vineyardtheatre.org

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