Off Broadway Reviews
at The New York Musical Festival
Like summer camp itself, the New York Musical Festival entry Camp Rolling Hills is not that surprising. As you'd expect from a two-hour romp about tweens so situated, there are friendships, rivalries, innocent flings, mistakes made, and lessons learned. The new kid at odds with the chummy returning campers eventually becomes an important part of their club; raids on each gender's cabin (titled San Juan Hill for the boys and Anita Hill for the girls) unveil important insights about respect that unites disparate personalities; and hey, it just wouldn't be a summer party if the two hot grown-up counselors and the administrators didn't get together, too. Written for kids of this age to watch, have a good time at, and maybemayberelate to, it's not something you're supposed to take seriously.
As such, it's difficult (if not a little unfair) to judge most of Adam Spiegel's score and David Spiegel and Stacy Davidowitz's book and lyrics on adult, objective terms. From my no-longer-in-the-target-age-group perspective, it's simplistic but cute: not really saying anything, but at least always having a smile on its face. The peppy almost-pop songs traverse comfortable territory, from away-from-home nicknames to unformed romantic yearnings to writing letters home in the first act. The second act, when (glancing) reflection hits, brings on the more "daring" content: the musical scene "Raid," in which underwear and toilet paper are the targets; the girl-power "Chicks Before Boys"; and the masculine-reassuring "Different Definition of Cool."
Director Jill Jaysen and choreographer Theresa Burns have not skimped on the brightness themselves, and their production (the bunkhouse set is by Gennie Neuman) matches the writers' breezy material. The cast, a blend of Equity and non-Equity performers, is all over the map, and many supporting roles are double-cast. But of the group I saw, David Hoffman is a particularly gifted young singer and magnetic stage presence who supercharges the few scenes in which he takes charge; Merin McCallum possesses sky-high spunk as one of the onlooking girls; and Jillian Louis, playing the "captain" in charge of the enterprise, strikes a ridiculous but effective balance between maternal warmth and power-starved authoritarianism that couldn't be more right for the undercooked character.
With that, I'd have written off the whole thing as a pleasant but forgettable outing pointless for anyone old enough to see Wicked. But then something remarkable happened in Act II: New Kid Robert (a lovably awkward James Ignacio) sang to his crush (Beatrice Tulchin, committed) about a unique reflection of his emotions. "All the Songs on My iPod" is a searingly straightforward declaration of affection that abandons all lyric-writing common sense, rhyming "kerfuffle" with "shuffle," and turns on lines like, "I have 20 gigs of memories / And all of them are true / But all the songs on my iPod / Make me think of you," but could not possibly work better or hit harder.
Combined with its cheesy but self-aware easy-listening melody, when paired with those corny but honest lyrics and Ignacio's unadorned portrayal, it became the highlight of not just Camp Rolling Hills, but of NYMF 2016 overall. A bigger shock still? Upon its conclusion, I involuntarily wiped away a tear. At the Festival, as at camp, you never know what you'll find if you keep your eyes and your heart open.
Camp Rolling Hills