BWW Reviews: CAMP ROCK, THE MUSICAL at Cumberland County Playhouse

Camp Rock, The Musical could easily be dismissed as so much homogenized, Disneyfied, teenaged pablum - but, in reality, it's much more than that. It's a fast-moving, engaging love story set to music and is much more akin to all those Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney "let's put on a show!" movies than you might expect.

In fact, it's fairly safe to say that if Mickey and Judy were young whippersnappers in this day and age, they'd be staking a claim on somebody's grandpa's barn to stage just the same kind of frivolity (that ends with a "Camp Rock Megamix" as jukebox musicals usually do these days) that figures prominently in the show now onstage at Crossville's Cumberland County Playhouse.

Freshly directed and choreographed with style by the always imaginative Michele Colvin, Camp Rock, The Musical features a large cast of at least 283 teenagers (so I exaggerate...sue me) from throughout Tennessee, who bring amazing amounts of talent and excitement with them as they transfer the music, storyline and characters from the Jonas Brothers-starring TV film to the stage.

In the process, you see some terrific star turns by young actors who've honed their skills while growing up as part of the CCP family. Most noteworthy among those young stars is Austin Price, the 21-year-old local actor (oozing a certain cleancut sensuality) who has tremendous stage presence and a wealth of talent with which to back it up.

Price plays Shane Gray, front man for the rock group Connect 3 (the trio of musical brothers who stand in for the real-life Jonas Brothers in this fictional tale). Price is cast in the role originally played by the middle Jonas boy - you know, the cute one who comedian Kathy Griffin says may be gay - who returns to the rock music-inspired and -infused summer camp for teens, run by his uncle Brown Cesario (played with an earnest world weariness by the capable Michael Ruff), a former rock star himself who is battling an ex-bandmate who runs a neighboring rock music camp called Camp Star.

Shane's joined by his brothers Jason (played by the tall and lanky - and confidently goofy - Ian Sweitzer, subbing in for the oldest Jonas, whose name is Schlomo or Pishik, I think, and who just got married) and Nate (Isaiah Banegas takes on the role originally played by the diabetic Jonas boy, the one who gummed up the works as Marius in the 25th anniversary concert of Les Miserables). Price, Sweitzer and Banegas have a good chemistry as brothers and deliver the right amount of charm and predictability to pull off the roles confidently.

Price is paired with Erin Curry as Mitchie Torres (I've never seen the TV film that inspired the stage musical, but I'm guessing that Selena Gomez may have played this role, while shuddering at the fact that I even know who Selena Gomez is, but I digress...). Mitchie is the female equivalent of Shane - charming, talented and appealing - and despite some sound problems in the early going, Curry (who alternates in the role with Jensen Craig) delivers a nice performance as the driven and ambitious starlet.

While the kids at Camp Rock are all clean-cut and earnest (and include the awesome dancer Chaz Sanders), they find themselves pitted against the budding rockers from the rival Camp Star (which is run by the comic-book dastardly Axel Turner - played with zestful glee by Greg Pendzick in a raucous turn) who are notably more cynical and grasping - but you know they'd be loads more fun telling tales around the campfire. They are led by the handsome and talented Elliott Cunningham, who's great as wannabe song-and-dance man Luke Williams, who is paired with Kaylee Verble (who alternates with Hannah Ellis) as the rival camp's rising star Tess Tyler, a vapid ingenue with a network executive for a stepfather. You just know Tess has a coterie of staffers on speed dial and she's not afraid to call 'em when the going gets rough!

There's no new ground covered by Camp Rock, The Musical and, admittedly, much of the action is predictable, but Colvin's cast is so enthusiastic and so eager to please that you can't help but enjoy yourself. Colvin (aided and abetted by assistant director/choreographer Leila Nelson, who has a great turn as TV presenter Georgina Farlow, sporting some terrific turquoise pumps) has her cast in constant motion and the action never wanes, propelling the show at a great pace throughout.

The music, written by some of pop music's most prolific tunesmiths has that Top 40, high energy feel you find on radio today, and it is given its due by music director Ron Murphy and his tight little ensemble of musicians in the pit. Price delivers some great numbers, particularly his duet with Curry on "You're My Favorite Song" and both "This is Our Song" and "Heart and Soul," which are backed up by all the Camp Rockers. Cunningham and the Star Campers are featured to good effect in Act One's "Fire" and in Act Two's "Tear it Down." Banegas and Lauren Thompson (playing his love interest, Dana Turner, evil Axel's sweet daughter) share some very nice moments in "Introducing Me," which sounds like something Jason Mraz would do on his day off.

Costume designer Rebel Mickelson outfits all the campers and adults in very "in the moment" styles, while Jim Crabtree's set design provides terrific physical trappings for all the onstage action. Finally, kudos to E. Tonry Lathroum for his spectacular lighting design which elevates the rather safe proceedings.

- Camp Rock, The Musical. Book by Robert L. Freedman and Faye Greenberg. Music adapted, arranged, orchestrated and produced by David Lawrence. Directed and choreographed by Michele Colvin. Music direction by Ron Murphy. Presented by Cumberland County Playhouse, Crossville, through March 12. For details, visit the website at www.ccplayhouse.com or call (931) 484-5000.



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From This Author Jeffrey Ellis