BWW Review: Sutton Lee Seymour Is Your Camp Counselor (With Extra Camp) in CAMP KWEEN at the Laurie Beechman
At the Laurie Beechman Theatre on August 11, the drag queen's methods were a little unconventional-just look at the list of scheduled activities, which include "throwing shade" and "water sports"-and, at times, perhaps a little haphazard.
In fact, as Seymour began her performance, the over-the-top queen seemed less a camp counselor and more like an auctioneer. Going a mile a minute, it wasn't long before she was joking that the first performance of the new show was the "dress rehearsal." But the hysterical tambourine toss that followed suggested she knew exactly what she was doing.
From the show's opening moments, the larger-than-life queen let her prowess as a physical performer speak for itself. Transforming "Proud Mary" (John Fogerty) into "Proud Fairy," an ode to "scrollin' on my Grindr," she mimicked Tina Turner's iconic choreography. Broad in the best way, it was topped only by her manic banging of the aforementioned tambourine against her body in a bombastic reinvention of NINE's "Be Italian" (Maury Yeston) as "Be a Drag Queen."
Although Seymour is a wonderfully theatrical singer and a seasoned comedy queen, some of the song parodies admittedly felt a little slight. Along with "Proud Fairy," Madonna's "Material Girl" (Peter Brown/Robert Rans) became "Campy Queen." While fun, some of these numbers felt like missed opportunities to push further, beyond lyrics like, "You can swish like a fish / When you yell, 'Yes, bish!'" There's a high bar to justify reworking the lines of such iconic songs for the sake of comedy, and more than once, it seemed a number hadn't quite gotten there.
But Seymour's skills went well beyond song-and-dance. The performer also displayed a real knack for crowd work, tossing off any first-show jitters and confidently stalking down the aisles like the "fame-ish" queen she is. From the first moment, Seymour's wit seemed to be imbued with even more bite after stepping off the stage, as she snapped at one anxious attendee, "You can look at me. I'm a human being under here."
Even after she'd returned to the stage, her acute self-awareness worked in her favor. For instance, when her lead-in to an audience question-and-answer portion (dedicated to revealing the ins and outs of drag) elicited groans, Seymour sardonically threw it right back in their faces, thanking them for giving exactly the kinds of sounds every performer really longs to hear while standing alone onstage.
Despite the crowd's kneejerk reaction, the Q&A sesh was undeniably solid, with Seymour throwing out lighthearted gems. In response to a question about her skincare regimen, she cracked, "Sleep all day, never see the sun, and you'll have flawless skin. That's what we call the Bernadette Peters!"
The summer camp framework weaved in and out, but the true purpose of the performance was simply to showcase Seymour's myriad of abilities. However, no camp-themed performance would be complete without a rendition of "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh (A Letter from Camp)," and the queen didn't disappoint, widdle baby voice and all. (Though, correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't remember "Truvada" being featured in the original lyrics.)
While Seymour was clearly in her element when interacting with the audience, it worked better in controlled doses, particularly during the portion when Seymour trained a pair of baby drag queens plucked from the audience. Trotting out her "purse" (an enormous suitcase) in a solid sight gag, the dress-up and lip-syncing lessons played well. But by the time the pair was sent out into the crowd to select partners to dance with in the aisles, it had clearly run on a bit too long.
Seymour proved herself to be a queen of all trades, dialing things down with her lovely rendition of "Another Life" (Jason Robert Brown) from THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. Instead of a tale of a broken heart, it was re-envisioned here as a beautiful, better-late-than-never ode to finding her true calling, drag, later in life.
Still, nothing served as a more cohesive blend of all she has to offer quite like her cover of "Wig in a Box" (Stephen Trask) from HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH. Without reinventing the wheel lyrically, Seymour's mix of vocal fireworks and tireless energy made that well-trod number come alive all over again.
Seeing that kind of finely-honed performance is exhilarating. Arriving near the end of the set list, it's impossible not to compare it to what came before. Seymour clearly knows how to put her stamp on a cover, and with a little tightening, it's not hard to imagine more of the show's songs approaching those same heights. Now that the "dress rehearsal" is out of the way, with a little more polishing, I could easily see myself booking a repeat stint at CAMP KWEEN.
Troy Frisby is an entertainment writer and digital news producer based in New York. Follow him on Twitter @TroyFrisby.