Jesus Camp: The Musical Comedy

British Exist Theatre Company admit that they sometimes embrace challenging and provocative subjects. They’re not wrong. Their newly created musical, Jesus Camp: The Comedy Musical, exposes, challenges and satirises in no short measure the uniquely American phenomenon of vacation-time residential Christian camps. Spiritual education or ideological indoctrination? You decide.

This show is a thoroughly enjoyable experience and you will leave smiling.

Joined by their excellent pianist (who doubles as the occasional provider of the third vocal harmony), Bethan Francis and Dan Peter Reeves carry this irreverent production along through sustained youthful energy and characterisation which, though exaggerated, suits the style of their intended humour. It is a demanding piece for the pair who are on stage for the duration and its success rests on their ability to engage with us which, through their comic timing and audience interaction, they invariably achieve.

The music by Winston Eade seems to be initially suggestive of a cross between Stephen Schwartz and Alan Menken and provides an excellent bedrock to the piece. The numbers are varied, often toe-tapping, and have that tendency to stick in your head as you leave the theatre. Musical similarities may be made between Build an Army and Book of Mormon’sBaptise Me – this is either coincidental or a pleasing intertextual reference for the well-attuned musical theatre fan!

In this character-driven piece, Francis gives an eccentric performance as the single-minded yet deceptively complex Lucy, while Reeves comes into his own as his character, Chad, softens under Lucy’s influence. Admittedly, Chad’s development might be made more effective with a more stark contrast from beginning to end, and the singers are more successful together than individually, but there are plenty of opportunities for us to enjoy their interplay.

Having also written the book and lyrics themselves, the two performers provide us with continual moments of humour, shock and potential discomfort yet they never quite cross the line of becoming overly offensive. Though a little rough around the edges, this show is a thoroughly enjoyable experience and you will leave smiling. It makes a great addition to the Free Fringe programme and is certainly more accomplished than much paid-for musical theatre I’ve seen this year. 

Reviews by Joshua Clarke

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Performances

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The Blurb

From the creative team behind the 2014 Edinburgh smash Man Enough comes a new musical comedy inspired by the award-winning documentary, Jesus Camp. Lucy's a self-confessed bible basher from a broken home, and Chad's a Jesus-hating military school dropout. They’re about to have a summer like no other at Sarah Chastity’s Christian Camp for Kids, where brainwashing is the order of the day. Join our all-American heroes as they battle with faith, hormones and the never-ending urge to break into song. A rip-roaring, born-again, hallelujah of a musical comedy! Warning: not for the biblically sensitive.

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