BOTTOM LINE: A smash hit of a musical, deserving of a move to off Broadway right now, and suitable both for teens and adults.
The arrival of Bunked! at this year's Fringe Festival is the kind of event theatre aficionados generally only get to dream of: a new musical with music, book, lyrics, direction and performances all by relatively unknown youngsters that bursts upon the scene as a full-fledged smash production. And that is exactly what has just occurred. Bunked! A New Musical is a smash production that may prove to be the show to see at this year's FringeNYC.
This tale of five camp counselors, all just having recently graduated from high school and all typically apprehensive over what the future might have in store for them, is both exuberantly joyful and deeply serious. Anabel (Amanda Jane Cooper) is the wholesome good little girl next door, somewhat insecure and conscientious to a fault, on the verge of discovering her own sexuality, personality and true worth as she approaches womanhood. Oliver (Tim Ehrlich) is Anabel's fraternal twin and as different from she as it is possible to be: he is overtly homosexual and proud of it, highly sexual, self-assured and the "bad" twin (to the extent that smuggling a bit of malt liquor and marijuana into Camp Timberlake is really "bad").
Both Max (Jake Lowenthal) and (Carmen) Lizzie Klemperer are attempting to come to grips with the various consequences of mortality that they recently have encountered. And Stewart (Ben Moss) is grappling with his own sexual ambivalence and the pressure of having conformed all his life to the wills of his demanding parents. Thrust together during a summer that may represent a final brief respite before they are forced to embark upon their adult journeys, the five come together and drift apart, explore and form relationships, and make major decisions that are likely to affect the rest of their lives.
All five actors do a superb job, both in playing their roles and in belting out the songs that make this show such a success, especially Cooper, as Anabel, who is an explosive firecracker of a performer. In doing such a grand job, all of the actors are fortunate in having such good material to work with. The book and lyrics by Alaina Kunin and Bradford Proctor, and the music by Bradford Proctor are creative, witty and memorable. The tunes are hummable and the lyrics sharp and clever.
What is most astonishing (and immensely gratifying) to me is that all of this has been accomplished by such young and otherwise relatively inexperienced thespians. Cooper, who just received her BFA this year, is making her New York theatre debut in this show. Klemperer is also making her New York stage debut in Bunked! Erlich is making his Fringe debut in this show, Lowenthal will be entering his final year of college this year, and Moss is just a sophomore. Kunin received her master's degree just three years ago and Proctor his BA just a year before that. Wow! What can we expect of these people a decade hence?
(Bunked! A New Musical plays at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street between Bleeker and Hudson Streets, through August 25th. Remaining performances are Sunday 8/22 at 8pm and Wednesday 8/25 at 10:45pm. For more information visit www.bunkedthemusical.com. Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 at the door, and are available at FringeNYC.com, by calling 866.468.7619, or in person at FringeCENTRAL, located at 1 East 8th Street at 5th Avenue. There is NO LATE SEATING for Fringe NYC shows.)