Go big or go home. At least that’s the vibe from The Vineyard Theatre’s new musical, Gigantic, which opened last night at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row. An earlier version of the show (then called Fat Camp) was a hit at the 2009 New York Musical Theatre Festival, where it received the “Best of the Fest Award.” Since then, the creative team of Randy Blair (book and lyrics), Tim Drucker (book), and Matthew roi Berger (music) has fine-tuned the piece with the help of director Scott Schwartz (Murder for Two) and choreographer Chase Brock (SpiderMan: Turn Off the Dark). The result: a bigger-than-life look at self-acceptance and adolescent angst.
Gigantic is no Spring Awakening (nor does it try to be), but much like the current Broadway musical Something Rotten!, it pays humorous homage to the latter’s gravitas, along with similar silly snapshots that theater aficionados might recognize from Hamilton, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and last season’s cult favorite, Heathers, along with a hilarious Michael Jackson “Thriller” tribute that should win Leslie Kritzer an Obie Award. That’s a lot of purposeful name dropping, which is to say that musically speaking, Gigantic doesn’t necessarily score big in the originally department. But what speaks volumes is the show’s construct and wildly talented cast.
Robert (Max Wilcox) is shipped off to Camp Overton, “the #3 weight loss camp in Southern Pennsylvania” helmed by longtime fiancées Sandy (Leslie Kritzer) and Mike (Burke Moses). He meets an array of characters, including urban rapper Darnell (Larry Owens), camp regular and general badass Daphne (Bonnie Milligan), nerdy Jewish kid Anshel (Jared Loftin) and eventual love interest Taylor (Ryann Redmond).
Most campers are none too thrilled with being relegated to fat camp, and a plan hatches to get kicked out. Mike’s nephew and junior counselor Brent (Andrew Durand)—who’s lost weight but managed to retain an ego the size of Jupiter—along with his freakish sister Britta (Katie Ladner) are on hand to wreak havoc on the aforementioned break-out scheme. Act II brings the arrival of some swaggy cheerleaders from the neighboring camp, including Ashley (Taylor Louderman), Robert’s imaginary girlfriend. A color wars-type throwdown ensues until the plot is neatly tied up in typical musical theater fashion.
The Vineyard Theatre, which is committed to producing new works, has been the incubator for productions that have won two Pulitzer Prizes and three Tony Awards. Gigantic pulls out all the stops with a cast of 15, an impressive set design by Tim Mackabee, Technicolor costumes by Gregory Gale and richly saturated lighting by Jeff Croiter. Decibel levels run high with the six-piece band and John Shiver’s sound design, which deliver a bubble gum pop score with an extra dose of sugar.
Gigantic is great fun, due mostly to a committed cast that relishes the material. The aforementioned Ms. Kritzer leaves no comedic rock unturned, while Ms. Redmond’s sweet transformation from shy newbie to camp heroine is as heartfelt as Mr. Wilcox’s unconventional leading man.
So many big voices made this reviewer wonder when we might see a slightly rotund Elphaba on the boards (somebody call Ms. Milligan’s agent) or other casting choices that look beyond size. It’s a message delivered in an eye-popping package; hopefully the theater community will unwrap it.
The Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street
Through December 20
Matthew Wexler is the Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on social media at @roodeloo.