[Victoria Fringe Festival 2016] SMUS Shake It Up with Disney’s Camp Rock!

CAMP-ROCK_4CLOCATION:
St. Michaels
University School
3400 Richmond Road
Saanich, BC

SHOWTIMES:
Fri Aug. 26 – 7pm
Sat Aug. 27 – 2pm
Sat Aug. 27 – 7pm

Sometimes it is tough to decide on what to take on as the first Victoria Fringe Festival presentation for the 2016 season. This year, the decision was a no-brainer and I had to see the results of what St. Michaels University School (SMUS) Summer Musical Theatre program produced. The folks involved always deliver a quality educational curriculum to teach the next rising stars the basics while having fun at the same time. On opening night, they put on the musical version of Disney’s Camp Rock.

This show highlights the musical stylings of bands like The Jonas Brothers and the modern sounds of the past decade. Like ’em or not (every generation has their favourite musicians), those who grew up with them had a rollicking time with this production. Opening night was not without a few chuckle-worthy moments, gaffes included; the group was able to roll with it and continue on. They also helped each other out on stage when lines were forgotten and I believe that’s the heart of what this program extols than to provide a higher calibre show other local professional theatre schools like Canadian College of Performing Arts works on. I’ve seen their production of Little Shop of Horrors years ago, and that was a memorable show to which I grinned like a Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland when rubber bands were shot towards audiences!

The theatrical version of Camp Rock merges the ideas from the two films together into a shorter product. Missing is the explanation of why Mitchie Torres (Erin Thorson) really wants to attend this prestigious summer camp. Her mother arranged to cater food and under this pretence, she is able to be a student. The play leaps past the setup and shows everyone knowing each other. They are all glad to see one another again in the opening number, “Brand New Day.” The first few days is like a jamboree with Connect 3, led by frontman, Shane Gray (Duke Curran) and his brothers, Nate and Jason. Immediately, there’s a rival for Mitchie. Tess Tyler (Sophie Jones) is a diva. She has no problems switching allegiances when the rival Camp Star sets up shop next door to them (from the second movie) and says to all their competitors they have better equipment to educate these up and coming musicians.

Amusingly, perhaps the only reason this other camp exists is because Coach Brown’s (Chase Wood) rival, Axel (Amber Ikle) was a former band mate. They have a long sordid history.

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In a show that’s under 75 minutes long, there’s a lot of story to pack in. The various subplots are worth exploring further if only Camp Rock been a television show like Glee. Laura Williams is a regular in several of SMUS’ past programs (Young Frankenstein, Band Geeks) and she has grown as an actress. I could feel the empathy in her performance; as Natalia, she’s a youth with problems expressing herself when Dana (Alana Hawes), a Camp Star resident, shows interest in being friends.

From the films, Mitchie has feelings for Shane and they share how they feel for each other in the number, “Wouldn’t Change a Thing.” This song shows how not everyone is able to display their affection easily. I could not help but be reminded of how similar they are to Disney’s Austin and Ally;  The chemistry between the two is still forming and perhaps, the performers were directed to play their roles like that to demonstrate the awkwardness of youths discovering romance for the first time. When compared to Grease, the seminal classic exploring young love, the two kids in this story are trying to understand how to express affection to each other.

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In the modern front, perhaps Camp Rock is comparable to Teen Beach Movie, a similar tale where Brady (Ross Lynch) and Mack (Maia Mitchell) wants summer to last forever so they can be together. But when Summer is coming to an end, reality comes crashing in strange ways in this other Disney product.

Just like many a past SMUS production, the cast swaps roles each night. The performers play two different characters to give them the practice of playing varying personality types. I rather liked the secondary character of J.C. who is played by Molly Robson. She had to play a supporting singer from the Camp Star side, and with a quick change of a grey shirt with black and a cap, I enjoyed seeing her flip sides like a quick toss of a coin. Jones is also another standout where her development of her “bad girl image” looks like it was inspired by Mal from Disney’s Descendents. She’s not bad, she’s just incorrigible with a heart of gold. When Tess realize what’s she is missing by leaving one camp for another, she misses the fun and wants to return.

Despite the many subplots going on, the night went by fast with the musical numbers carrying the show to its finale. “What We Came Here For” describes exactly why we attend these performances. To witness the camaraderie is far more important than testing the competition, and that’s what makes attending these SMUS productions fun. For me, it is to recognize the fact these youths are graduating with the distinction of possibly being future entertainers.

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