Originally published on A Younger Theatre
Awarded 2 stars
Avant garde musicals are all the rage. The last 10 years have seen Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon reach astronomical levels of fame on Broadway, in the West End and around the world.Jesus Camp: The Musical Comedy is of the same ilk, taking a potentially volatile subject and exploiting its idiosyncrasies to their fullest.
Lucy (Bethan Francis) and Chad (Dan Peter Reeves) are sent to Jesus Camp for summer vacation. Lucy (Francis), a peppy and pious 12-year-old girl, has already welcomed Jesus as her saviour and gets stuck into all camp activities, including a create-you-own-sermon workshop. Chad (Reeves), an angry ex-military academy 11 year old, is less enthused and prefers to sulk alone. But holier-than-thou Lucy is having none of that and eventually does too good a job of winning him round to team Jesus.
A lot of the musical’s set is left to the imagination, which isn’t a problem for this production – it is more difficult however to overlook the mistakes in the show’s execution. Tech get the cues wrong at times, the pianist (Winston Eade) is competent but fluffs some of the accompaniment and both actors’ vocals are flat in a number of the songs. The book is also unfortunately predictable, with no surprising twists or turns that keep the audience guessing. The song lyrics are better – some are a bit unimaginative, but overall there are some lines that add colour, comedy and even satire to the show.
The best part of this production is in those nuggets of comedy gold that the show needs more of. Controversial lines are thrown in to break up the monotony of the dialogue; “Harry Potter is a warlock and J.K. Rowling is a sadist!” is Lucy’s initial reaction that Chad doesn’t read the Bible every day like a good Christian boy. The book plays on the naivety on pre-teens as well with good effect, “Wait, you’re pregnant?!” “Our lips touched! I can’t have a baby,” is reminiscent of the fables that the younger generation hear and believe about more adult concepts currently unknown to them.
“You don’t have to understand, it’s religion,” sums up the plotline of the production pretty well. 12-year-old Lucy is obviously wise beyond her years. Or perhaps not; “Our people are fighting for God, so it’s ok” sounds more like the indoctrinated teachings of Sarah Chastity’s Christian camp for kids. The premise for this production is sound, it just needs more development to make the books more intriguing, the songs more memorable and the jokes more plentiful.
Jesus Camp plays at Laughing Horse at The Newsroom (venue 93) until August 30 as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. For more information, visit the Fringe website.