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After a trying year of virtual theater, nothing says live shows are back in business quite like the sight of seven naked, singing actors swinging in your face. Performing just a hop, skip, and two subway stops from where Springsteen breathed life back into Broadway in June, the all-male, and, frequently, all-nude cast of Camp Morning Wood: A Very Naked Musical have joined the Boss as one of the first post-pandemic shows to return to the boards in New York.
“It feels amazing,” says Morning Wood director-conceiver Marc Eardley of being fast out of the gate, and already extended to run through the summer. Eardley and company had been prepping to revive the campy musical-comedy following its initial 2019 run before the city’s theaters shut down due to COVID restrictions. “We literally had just had a reading of the show,” he recalls. “We were going to do it again for Pride 2020.”
They would have to wait, along with the rest of New York’s theater community, until Pride 2021, but Eardley was determined to be ready. “I was like, ‘I’m coming back first. I’m going to make this show happen,'” he says. “And so when it started to seem like it was maybe lifting…I hit the ground running with the writers. I was like, ‘We’re doing it. I don’t know how, but we’re going to do it.'”
That same moxie drove the gay Jersey native — who had prior success with a reimagined revival of Hedwig & the Angry Inch — to develop Camp Morning Wood in the first place.
“In mid-2015, I had some nudist party experiences, and I thought they were fascinating, the different kinds of interactions that were happening when people had their clothes off and were drinking and chatting, and kind of having basically a house party, but without clothes,” he says. “A lot of friends told me about their experiences at the naked campgrounds that exist. I thought it was really fun and funny. And then I was like, ‘There hasn’t been a naked musical since Naked Boys Singing. And that was so successful.’ And so I talked to my collaborators, ‘Let’s do one.'”
Among those collaborators, Jay Falzone wrote the book and lyrics set to the peppy score by Trent Jeffords, Derrick Byars, Matt Gumley, and Jeff Thomson. Between the puns and double entendres marking lead character Randy’s journey from uptight professor of colonial queer studies at Columbia University to naked and liberated professor, Eardley also was determined to convey a message of breaking away from apps and phones to embrace unconditional love, and, crucially, body positivity.
“That was an imperative,” says Eardley. “I mean, there were people when I was developing it [who] were like, ‘Oh, you’re going to need seven guys with six-packs.’ And I was like, ‘No, that show exists.’ I think we’re in a different world right now and there’s a different movement. And I want to be a part of that in some small way. It was imperative that we find people of all kinds of sizes and shapes and colors to do the show. It just feels better. I think it would feel very inauthentic if it wasn’t.”
It wasn’t easy to find the right actors to bare all for these roles. “Casting this show was probably the hardest part of it,” says Eardley. “I mean, we know what society is like, right? And gay society, gay culture. And so I think finding bears and finding people of color and finding people that aren’t abbed-up twinks is just a challenge. There’s a lot less people. A lot of white twinks auditioned for the show — you know, a lot. So there’s a specific demographic that is very happy to get naked on stage, and it takes work to find the other body types. So far, we’ve been successful.”
Camp Morning Wood runs through Sunday, August 29, at the Asylum Theatre, 307 W. 26th St., New York City. Tickets are $37.50 for general admission, or $55 for priority seating plus a premium drink ticket. Attendees must show proof of full vaccination status with a vaccination card or picture of card for access. Visit www.campmorningwoodthemusical.com.
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