The other night I was treated to an unexpected delight of a show at 42@Yotel (this new theater on 42nd & 10th was another unexpected treat!) called CAMP WANATACHI: In Concert. As part of the 2017 New York Musical Festival (NYMF), this 90-minute musical romp is about a girl’s sleep-away camp. It explores what can happen in the course of a few weeks that can change lives dramatically. From finding true love to getting a period for the first time to finding out things about oneself never explored before to dealing with the new dawn of social media, it’s a wonderful exploration of what it’s like to grow up in 2017.
My daughter just got back from sleep-away camp. I’m a veteran of the same camp myself. So when I read about this show, my interest was uniquely peaked. She has blossomed in the five years since she started going and the experience remains a pivotal part of my youth. I’m also a huge advocate of girls getting away from home, where they can truly find themselves, in a place where they are surrounded by other girls from all walks of life, many of whom are very different to the people they know back home.
The show actually more than lived up to my expectations. The combination of writing, story-telling, song-writing, music, and singing is quite powerful, bringing a small tale to life in a way that very much hit home. Each song truly resonates to a different part about being a female teenager – from raging hormones to jealousy to discovering one’s sexual orientation to dealing with different types of personalities. The performers tell the story on a bare set lined with musicians whose score to the play is electro-pop, a perfect pick for the play’s 1970’s/1980’s vibe.
Set in a fictional Christian camp, the show follows a young girl called Jana, played by Marissa O’Donnell, and her bunk mates, called the “tribe”. There’s Lauren, her BFF, played by Keaton Whitaker, who would like nothing more than to have Jana to herself at all times; there’s Daisy, played by Remy Zaken, the bunk’s depressive yet funny in her own way goth; and two other spirited girls – the kind you want your teen to get to know, played by Liz Bryne and Hannah Delmonte. They’ve all known each other a long time and have their summer gig down, so when a new girl comes in the middle of the session named Titi, played by Jillian Mueller, things are knocked off balance. She’s more advanced, with talk of sex and “riding bareback” (a topic which makes for a great song, by the way).
At first, the girls don’t know what to make of her, particularly Jana, whose religion and faith in the Bible have guided her through life to this point. But Jana slowly develops a quiet, unrequited love for Titi. When her love is returned, it becomes an explosive and passionate affair that eventually gets out. When their counselor, Corky, played by Sami Gayle, and camp Director Joel, played by Travis Artz, find out about the two girls, things hit the fan, but why is it fair that the two of them can have an affair and two females can not? In a camp set in a religious world that is resistant to change, their love is not easily accepted at first, but things o begin to move in the right direction. Jana’s favorite quote from the Bible is “There is no fear in love” – and thankfully, it’s a lesson that the entire camp embraces.
While all the performers really rock, the one that stood out most for me was O’Donnell. Her expressions, her voice – she’s quite masterful at displaying the emotions of a teenager, and her voice is very powerful to boot. Watch below as she comes to recognize her sexual orientation in a song from the show.
This show has major talent behind it. From its writers to production team to its wonderful cast. It was written by Bekah Brunstetter (NBC’s “This Is Us”, OORAH!) and Natalie Elizabeth Weiss (World-renowned DJ, Unicornicopia), with music/lyrics by Weiss and beats by Machinedrum (beat-maker for Kanye West, Solange Knowles); produced by Bridget Regan (“Jane the Virgin”; “Agent Carter”); directed by Mia Walker (Waitress, Porgy and Bess); musically directed by Emily Marshall (Nat’l tours A Chorus Line, We Will Rock You); orchestrated by Conrad Winslow (Rufus Wainwright, Alarm Will Sound); and choreographed by Vanessa Walters (Fischerspooner). It was previously presented at the New York Fringe Festival as a workshop, at 3LD ART & Technology Center as a concert performance and at La Mama ETC as a fully stated performance.
I hope that this small show has life after NYMF. I want my teenage daughter to see it; I want many teenage girls to see it. Being a teenager isn’t easy, and it’s good to see a realistic story of how hard those important years are and how they help formulate who we are as people.
CAMP WANATACHI: In Concert is a show about awakening…acceptance…and above all, love.
Disclosure: I was given complimentary tickets to facilitate this review, but all opinions are my own.