Disclaimer: All thoughts and opinions below are mine, and any mistakes as well. This is a summary/review as people have been asking me to post for those too far away to go see it themselves. Enjoy.
Camp Wanatachi is a musical overflowing with catchy songs, and intriguing characters. The story follows four teenage girls at a Christian Summer Camp. Jana, played brilliantly with wide-eyed innocence and increasing fervor by Marissa O’Donnell, has been going to CW since second grade. She’s the good girl, the one who always follows the rules and everyone likes. In turn, she is kind to all those around her. And, as we learn in a scene that takes place in the camp chapel, Jana believes in meeting people where they are and finding God in the unexpected places.
Jana’s friends at camp include the effervescent Lauren (Jana’s best friend), played by Keaton Whittaker, a gymnast not afraid to voice her opinions, for good or ill, and Daisy, played by Alyse Alan Louis, the goth chick and self-proclaimed “freak for Christ”. Also present are Corky (Natalie Elizabeth Weiss- who is also the show's creator) and Joel (Thom Miller), the young adult counselors of the respective girls and boys camps, who are clearly struggling to find the balance between their mutual attraction and the rules of the camp. Weiss’ energy and heart read on her face in her portrayal of a young woman caught in a game of cat and mouse with Miller’s Joel, who visibly struggles between what he wants and what he believes the Bible teaches about right and wrong.
Thrown into the mix is new girl Titi O’Malley a rebellious and troubled teen embodied by Krystina Alabado, played with a subtle mix of grace and lost innocence. Jana is immediately drawn to the new girl, as is everyone else when she shows up to camp in high heels, tight top and a short skirt that shows off more than it ought to. There is of course much more to Titi than we would assume: she uses her beauty and sex as her shield. She suffers from an eating disorder, and feels unloved by her mother and step-father. When we meet her, Titi has little self-worth, and mocks the other girls, particularly Jana, for spouting out Bible verses about the love of God.
Slowly though, things begin to change at Camp Wanatachi. For perhaps the first time, someone has taken the time to get to know the real Titi, and seems to genuinely care for her. One night after dinner (and the awesome track “Dining Hall Swag”) Jana takes Titi out to her favorite thinking spot at camp. She’s never showed anyone else. Jana tells Titi that God loves us all, and died for our sins. Titi playfully plants a kiss on Jana’s cheek and then runs off. Left alone with her thoughts, Jana plays the moment over in her head. She finally comes to the realization that she is in love with Titi. Next up is “Let’s Ride Bareback”, which is Jana singing about her coming to Camp Wanatachi and how impressed she was the first day she ever saw Titi (who wears high heels to camp?! :) I just have to say that Marissa O’Donnell sings this song so well, and it packs such an emotional punch, you can’t help but be swept up in her blossoming love for Titi. You want to root for them.
At this point, Titi decides to embrace camp and all its activities. After all, the camper who get a gold feather in each activity is eligible to be the camp princess. Lauren has her sights set on it, so when Titi starts participating and excelling, she is none too pleased. It doesn’t help matters that Jana is now spending all of her free time with Titi. One night, Titi finds Jana in her special thinking spot, and asks Jana to pray for her, and they sing another epic song. Jana and Titi reveal that they are in love with each other. Unfortunately, their bliss is short lived, as Lauren catches them together under the ivy, although she can’t make out who Titi was with. Lauren runs off to tell on Titi to Joel, who is busy re-reading Leviticus. He is infuriated when Lauren tells him she saw Titi going down on somebody under the ivy. He thanks her and sends her on her way. Joel then calls Titi to the office, where he sits her in a chair and proceeds to berate her for all the wrong reasons. He handles this very poorly because he sees in Titi the same “mistakes” he believes he is making with Corky, whom he slept with again. After making her feel terrible, Joel kicks her out of the camp, and sends her home.
When Corky hears the news she is disappointed in Joel, and asks him how what Titi did was any different than what the two of them had just done earlier. He tries to tell her that was also a mistake. Meanwhile, Jana is heartbroken and beside herself. She feels terrible that Titi got caught and kicked out, while she gets off scot-free. She even goes so far as to contemplate suicide. The song she sings about all the ways she could kill herself cleverly enlists all the everyday useful tools and supplies found around the camp. Still, her pain is palpable and your heart breaks along with hers. Right as she is about to jump, Corky finds Jana and pulls her down. Corky asks Jana what’s going on, but then breaks in with her own tale of woe about her and Joel. They are interrupted by the announcement that it’s time to announce who will be the princess...
And that is where I will end this review. I will say that it has a brilliant ending, and that the audience is left with the wonderful message that God is love, and through our love for others we can find God’s love. The finale song is epic, and packed to the rafters with the same infectious exuberance that the rest of the songs share. There is no fear in love!
As a graduate student at a Seminary, I particularly enjoyed the theologically themed jokes throughout the play. These jokes are of course for everyone, there’s just an added layer for those of us who have studied these topics, or even for those who have ever been to a summer camp. Some of my favorite lines are from Daisy’s ode to Kurt Cobain, and Lauren’s “love” of Justin Beiber. The other thing I immensely appreciated about the show was its excellent theology. As a Lutheran seminary student, I found myself nodding in agreement over the message of God’s love for all, and the Theology of the Cross (this popped up in Jana’s chapel meditation- where she says that we should meet people where they are, and how we can find God in the unexpected places). Luckily, I go to a Seminary that is very open and welcoming to all people. We have a variety of students from various denominations and are now a Reconciling in Christ school as well (http://www.lcna.org). This musical and the story it portrays sends a very important message that all are loved by God, no matter who you are or who you love. This message is one that is very poignant and hopeful for today's world. Well done, Camp Wanatachi.
The only thing I would love to see added is a full soundtrack recorded by this fantastic cast. (I already have the 4 song EP on repeat that I got last summer at the concert show of CW ;) Marissa O’Donnell's and Krystina Alabado's voices blend together so effortlessly and convincingly, and everyone else has their musical moments to shine. There’s really not much else I can say, other than this show is EPIC and covered in winsauce :) If you can, I highly recommend going to see it (campwanatachi.com). Although I may not have initially heard of this project if not for Bridget Regan's involvement as producer, I can happily say that I love it all on its own! Many thanks to the entire cast and crew for an awesome production. I’ll look forward to the next incarnation of this project :)
In : CAMP WANATACHI
Tags: "camp wanatachi" "review" "bridget regan"
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