"I could never say that subtlety was a virtue in this production," says Teaneck's Steven Bell, director of the Bergen County Players production of the 1992 Marvin Laird-Joel Paley off-Broadway musical.
This spoofy show about an insanely ambitious child star (Gabriella Baldacchino of Glen Rock) who murders her way to the top, and the talent agent (Clifton Lewis of Closter) who eggs her on, should ring a bell with anyone who knows old movies. It's virtually a catalog of all the over-the-top scenes about demented divas and fiendish children that ever got shrieks of laughter from a midnight audience in a West Village cinema. You know the ones: "All About Eve," "The Bad Seed," "Gypsy," "Mommie Dearest."
"Part of the appeal is the recognition factor," Bell says. "It's seeing all these iconic moments and scenes, from all those big over-the-top female-led Hollywood movies of the golden era."
"Camp," as a term for "ostentatious, exaggerated, affected ... effeminate" (Oxford English Dictionary, 1909), apparently derives from the French se camper: "To pose in an exaggerated fashion."
But camp, as Susan Sontag argued in a famous 1964 essay, has become a key cultural style — and not just in the gay community where it all started. To exaggerate the serious until it becomes ridiculous, to find the laughs in things that were meant to be taken straight, to glory in the bad behavior of an out-of-control prima donna, is par for the course in a hip, "post-modern" culture where seemingly everything is in quotation marks.
"It's all over-the-top, it's in your face," Bell says. "We break the fourth wall all the time. The musical numbers are mostly delivered directly to the audience. People don't talk to each other. They talk at each other."
The show, featuring a cast of six, a band of four and songs like "Born to Entertain" and "I Hate Musicals," is as much fun for the actors as it is for the audience. After all, anyone who's spent time in the theater probably has "Gypsy" and "The Bad Seed" in their DNA.
"I directed 'Gypsy' here many years ago, and I directed 'Applause' [the musical based on 'All About Eve']. I've been in 'Applause.' I can draw from those experiences in putting these situations onstage."
Of course, no musical that celebrates camp would be complete without cross-dressing. Clifton Lewis, playing talent agent "Sylvia St. Croix," has his – her – work cut out for him.
"He's having a great time," Bell says. "Although he says trying to remember all his lines and keeping his knees together is a bit of a challenge."
Content gathered & updated by the Bergen Review Media team.