Theatre review: Bunked! The Musical is a little rough

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Somewhere in New York City there is a well-used rhyming dictionary.

Awkward Stage Productions brings Alaina Kunin and Bradford Proctor’s story of a quintet of teens who find themselves as camp counselors at Camp Timberlake to Vancouver audiences in a show laden with as much teen angst as pop culture references.

Kunin and Proctor leave few story lines behind, giving something for each of the five to sing about.  Homosexuality, teen pregnancy, suicide, first-love, parental rebellion all get some play here but even as these themes may resonate with its younger target audience, Kunin and Proctor do their story a disservice by writing it as a series of montages that tends to box each of the stories separately.

Nick Rose, Alex Strong and Molly Wilson in the Awkward Stage Productions presentation of Bunked! The Musical

Nick Rose, Alex Strong and Molly Wilson in the Awkward Stage Productions presentation of Bunked! The Musical

But even the clichés and pop culture references are eclipsed by the repetitive rhyming rhythms in each of the shows 16 songs.  It wouldn’t be so bad if there was some variety, but Kunin and Proctor use a tedious xAxA rhyming schema that renders it very noticeable and not a little annoying.  Even in some of the show’s better numbers like “Shine”, sung with great conviction by Michelle Bardach, they too fall prey to writing duo’s well-used rhyming dictionary.  In contrast, Proctor’s music is interesting and varied, although not quite enough to overcome the lyrics.  Fortunately, the small trio of musicians led by musical director Joshua Stackhouse makes good work of that music.

Surprisingly where many shows find strength in numbers, it is in individual musical performances that this cast of young up-and-comers really take flight with the material.  Bardach shines in “Shine” and Nick Rose even manages to overcome the banality of “Labels”.  The cast has obviously connected with each other and the material, but like one of the songs it is at times a “hot mess”.

Director Xavier de Salaberry plays things safe in the small CBC Studio space by giving many of the numbers a “Seasons of Love” feel as the quintet lines up along the stage risers for the majority of its songs.  Crowding out the actors on the tiny stage is a huge bunk bed, but for the real estate that it occupies it is a wasted opportunity, used little more than to hang a few props and a place for the actors to sit.

One can’t help but admire the chance that Awkward Stage has taken by handing over the reins of the show entirely to this young cast and crew (with help from more seasoned mentors).  The opportunity they have been given here will help as they continue their careers in theatre, but having never been a fan of roughing it myself, this particular camping trip did little to change my mind.

Bunked! The Musical

By Alaina Kunin and Bradford Proctor. Directed by Xavier de Salaberry. Musical direction by Joshua Stackhouse. An Awkward Stage productions presentation. On stage at the CBC Studio 700 through June 2, 2013.  Visit for tickets and information.

Mark Robins on Google+

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