Entertainment » Theatre

Visit 'Camp Morning Wood' — the Queer, Naked Narrative Musical

by Frank J. Avella
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Jun 6, 2019
The cast of "Camp Morning Wood"
The cast of "Camp Morning Wood"  (Source:Michael Wiltbank )

"Camp Morning Wood" is billed as "A Very Naked Musical," and is the first queer, naked narrative musical to open in New York in quite a while (if ever?).

EDGE sat down with the creatives as well as two of the lead actors to discuss the endeavor, two weeks before the first preview (the run was delayed a week), on a tiny break from the manic process.

"We like to think of 'Camp Morning Wood' as 'Rocky Horror' meets 'Naked Boys Singing!'," proclaims book writer and lyricist Jay Falzone.

The show is the brainchild of director Marc Eardley who took his experience in the nudist world and decided to develop it further. "It was such an eye-opening experience for me," Eardley offers, "Being in that environment and seeing the potential for a breakthrough on vulnerability, on confidence... it really does break down all of the pretension of clothes and life... your natural state... how it can empower people."


A little groundbreaking
Brady Vignes, Alex Gagne, Najee Gabay and Michael Witkes  (Source:Michael Wiltbank)

A little groundbreaking

Eardley teamed up with Falzone to work on the show, "Fat Kid Rules the World," and while they waited for movement on that piece, Eardley turned to Falzone back in October and wondered: "Why don't we do a fun naked show that's unpretentious?" In the aftermath of the wildly popular "Afterglow," a play that featured quite a bit of flesh, Eardley felt the time was right. "The success of that show paved the way for shows like this to live again. Because from what I understand, there's really been no naked musical since 'Naked Boys Singing' in 1999, so it's been 20 years."

The original plan was for a co-ed show, but the feedback leaned queer: "there
was a big push to get it up for pride," Falzone shares. Both are aware of the absence of queer-themed productions opening this summer considering it is the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. And the few that are opening are plays. Eardley: "There's nothing like us... It's the perfect month to do it. It feels like it could be special."

Also setting them apart from the other shows is that the ensemble will be naked. Falzone assures the show is not about shock value. "It's kind of the opposite. It's about being who you are at your most vulnerable, at your most real place and the comfortability with that. And being able to cast off the stigma surrounding nudity in this country, which is very different around the rest of the world."

"We're also the only ones with a plot," Eardley chimes in. "The book songs are plot driven... there is a theme and purpose for the show, which hopefully is a little groundbreaking."


Five different composers
Najee Gabay  (Source:Michael Wiltbank)

Five different composers

"Camp Morning Wood" is also different from other book musicals since it has five different composers (Derrick Byars, Bobby Cronin, James Dobinson, Matt Gumley & Will Shishmanian). One of the reasons had to do with the accelerated time frame. "Getting multiple composers would help with the speed," Falzone explains. "We had composers we wanted to use but everybody couldn't just open up their schedules for us because it was happening so quickly... another reason was we really did want a diverse, creative team involved."

That fast-paced process continues into the rehearsal room where the script is changing daily. "A lot of it is go-with-your-gut and workshop it and see what works and what doesn't. It's exciting and stressful," Eardley elaborates, "We have ambitious plans for the show. Should it do well in New York, there's already two queer theaters around the country, without even seeing it, that have already requested materials and are interested, one in Atlanta and one in Chicago."

Both Eardley and Falzone have been working in theatre for years. Falzone wrote for politically satiric plays like, "Bush Wars" while Eardley created "Son of Captain Blood," and "50 Shades." "I'm actually aching to do more queer work," Eardley shares, "I want to tell my narrative. That's why I'm having extra fun doing this because it's queer. You can't get more gay than this."


How confident are you?
Alex Gagne  (Source:Michael Wiltbank)

How confident are you?

The "CMW" plot revolves around a newly engaged couple advised by their therapist to leave the big city and reconnect with one another. Alas, their car breaks down outside a gay nudist getaway.

Brady Vigness and Alex Gagne play the camp leader and the frustrated fiancé respectively.

Vigness explains how the actors were asked to send in a nude self-tape. "When creating that first self tape — that might have been everyone's initial, 'am I willing to remove my clothes for my craft' question. I've been in my underwear onstage, but how confident are you with yourself? How much do you love yourself? How much are you willing to share of yourself? Are you willing to strip down to that vulnerability as well?"

Gagne concurs: "I hadn't appeared naked before. As an actor, can I be turning down a chance to be employed? Do I love my body? Yes. Do I hold shame with myself? No."

"One of the messages of the show is to break down that barrier that we've put up in American culture of nudity being this scandalous, provocative thing," Vigness offers. He describes his character, Jacques, as " the sassy, flirty, fiery and very outgoing Frenchman who is very accepting of men's bodies who's mission was to create a safe place for gay men to come and be liberated through nudity."


A challenge
Brady Vigness  (Source:Michael Wiltbank)

A challenge

The "ever-evolving script" has been a challenge for the actors. "Everything has been very efficient. The first two days we learned all the music. The rest of the first week we worked on group numbers. Then started staging everything. And yesterday and today we're just putting it all together," Gagne explains.

Both actors appreciate working on a brand new script. Vigness shares, "There's nothing like creating a character for the first time, being the first person to play a specific character is a privilege."

Gagne feels an affinity for the role he's playing. "Randy mirrors me in so many ways. He's so close to home for me and I never get that... The parallels are eerie. And I just happened to fall into it."

On the subject of queer roles being played by queer actors, Gagne says, "I feel like actors should be able to be in the forefront of telling their own stories. That being said I understand in a lot of high paying productions they need a celebrity... I would just hope they'd get a gay celebrity. And as society changes more and more actors will feel more comfortable to not keep that secret... But that being said. I wanna play straight roles!" Vigness offers: "There's something to be appreciate about the show being created by gay men about gay men."


Culture shock
Bryan Songy  (Source:Michael Wiltbank)

Culture shock

Vigness is new to NYC, having moved from Nebraska this past January and "CMW" is his first theatre gig in the city. Culture shock? "I wanted that culture shock," he enthused. "I wanted that change...There's only so much culture you get in Nebraska and coming here, it's a gigantic melting pot of everything — you're exposed to a whole lot — it's a lot more exciting. And crazy and stressful but I bask in it."

As for Gagne? "It's my first big fabulous fantastic gay production!"



"Camp Morning Wood" features Anthony Logan Cole, Courtney Dease, Najee Gabay-Knight, Alex Gagne, Ethan Gwynn, Jeffrey Johns, Bryan Songy, Sean Stephens, Brady Vigness, and Michael Witkes.

"Camp Morning Wood, A Very Naked Musical" plays a four-week limited engagement, June 7 - July 7, off-Broadway at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, 416 W 42nd Street, 4th floor. Performances are Wed-Fri at 7:30PM, Sat at 5:30PM & 10PM, and Sun at 1PM & 5:30PM. There is an added Tuesday evening performance on Tuesday, June 11 at 7:30PM. Opening night performance is June 13 at 6PM. Tickets are $59 - 99 and available through www.TicketCentral.com and the theatre's box office.

For more information, visit the musical's website.


Frank J. Avella is a film and theatre journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He is also a proud Dramatists Guild member and a recipient of a 2018 Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship. He was awarded a 2015 Fellowship Award from the NJ State Council on the Arts, the 2016 Helene Wurlitzer Residency Grant and the Chesley/Bumbalo Foundation Playwright Award for his play Consent, which was also a 2012 semifinalist for the O'Neill. His play, Vatican Falls, took part in the 2017 Planet Connections Festivity and Frank was nominated for Outstanding Playwriting. Lured was a semifinalist for the 2018 O'Neill and received a 2018 Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation Grant. Lured will premiere in 2018 in NYC and 2019 in Rome, Italy. LuredThePlay.com


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