Broadway Chorus’ “Fraulein J” a funny, feel-good crowd pleaser

FJCFC cast The latest offering from The Broadway Chorus, “Fraulein J’s Camp for Children”, triumphed over some first-act challenges and had me utterly won over soon after intermission. The thunderous applause at curtain call was richly deserved. If you seek lighthearted, put-a-smile-on-your-face silliness, don’t miss it. The strong suits as always were the spot-on choral harmonies, varied and well-chosen songs, and creative staging, including the evocative use of flashlights for “Hold Me Bat Boy”, and the cavalcade of hula hoops, swirling ribbons and jugglers for the Act 2 opener, “Simple Joys” from Pippin. And two swings onstage were put to good use during the beautiful “When I Grow Up” from Matilda. Fraulein JThe first act, while full of well-chosen tunes (I particularly loved “Follow Your Dream” from The Musical of Musicals: The Musical) and a good helping of zingy one-liners, suffered a bit from a lack of narrative drive while the children’s-summer-camp setting, and some key plot components, were established. But on the other hand, we met the memorable Fraulein J herself (Sarah Jaysmith, also Musical Director), a sort of chain-smoking, world-weary Marlene Dietrich type who’s a comically unlikely choice to run a children’s camp. And we’re introduced to a colourful quartet of camp counsellors that spoof 80’s-movie cliches. Writer/Director Ashley Lambert-Maberly’s Broadway Chorus shows aren’t about brilliant plots, they’re comic baubles meant primarily to hold a variety of widely-sourced songs. So the challenge is always to craft a tale where the seams are as invisible as possible. But narrative energy and a strong antagonist are still essential. Past Chorus shows, most notably Priscilla, Queen of the Damned and The Ghost Man Always Rings Twice, managed to hit all the right notes both dramatically, comically and musically. But the first act of Fraulein J – despite an endearing subplot about Charley, a kid who feels like a total failure but gets a chance to find her talent – felt a little unfocused. Act two, however, took off like a rocket, thanks largely to the dynamic duo of Pascal Archambault and Gisele da Silva as the gruff developer Walter Whiteside and his scheming mistress, Audra Ondracek. Suddenly we had an engaging and funny antagonist, and some conflict we could sink our teeth into along with the gorgeous harmonies. And it turned out that some of the stuff happening in Act 1 was more important than we realized. Another standout moment in the second half is the unexpectedly racy staging of “History is Made at Night”, from Bombshell, the fictitious Broadway show of the TV series Smash. Past shows have had risqué numbers, and every other show for a while seemed to feature a bevy of streetwalkers, but the striptease choreography for Walter and Audra in this number has to be the most seductive staging I’ve seen in a Broadway Chorus show! The singing and acting in The Broadway Chorus has gotten better every year, and this time around, the spunky Jen Arnold (“Brenda”) brought tremendous stage presence and vocal power to the mix in only her second appearance with the Chorus. In “1876”, Gayle Pelman-Swain hit the perfect note of unaffected honesty. And Gil Jaysmith, garbed as an Ozzy Osbourne-style 80’s rocker, delivered the touching “The Butterfly” (from The Story of My Life), during which I was surprised to find a lump in my throat. By the rousing finale, the original “Break Down the Barriers”, penned by Gil and Sarah Jaysmith, I was cheering with genuine gusto for the plucky kids of Fraulein J’s camp. I’m sure you will be, too! “Fraulein J’s Camp for Children” has three performances left, Friday at 8 and Saturday at 3 and 8 at Performance Works on Granville Island, so hurry and get your tickets while you can! Get your tickets here.

2 thoughts on “Broadway Chorus’ “Fraulein J” a funny, feel-good crowd pleaser

  1. Thanks for the review Adam! It’s interesting – you held Priscilla up as an example of a Broadway Chorus narrative strength, but as an audience member for that show, I actually had some of the same concerns you had with Camp for Children – the plot about the opera ghost took up a bunch of Act 1 but didn’t ultimately go anywhere, as did the search for body parts so that Dr. Frankenstein could ultimately build a monster. I still think Priscilla is an absolutely brilliant show, but I wonder if, when we see shows as audience members rather than performers, we tend to be more aware of narrative than those of us who are actively involved in the show itself :)

    Of course, I would argue that our most successful show ever was Supermusical, which, on a narrative level, frequently took complete 90° turns. (It’s about fashion models, oh, no, wait, super heroes, oh now there are villains, and then, wait, WHAT, they are aliens from outer space?!)

    Anyway, thank you so much for coming to see the show and for taking the time to write a very detailed review! As a long-time chorus-er and two-time audience member, I really enjoy the process of analyzing the show from the audience perspective, even when the take-home message is always “it is hilarious and totally worth seeing”

  2. Thanks Sarah! I was actually a bit anxious about writing a review that didn’t merely gush about the good parts but properly analyzed some of the weaknesses – I did really enjoy the show, and wanted the takeaway for readers to definitely be “go see it”, but I was also determined to write honestly. (However, I can’t write negative reviews: if I really don’t like a show, I’ll just keep quiet about it!)

    Funny you should call me out on the narrative “fail” of Priscilla. I actually mentioned it more because it was one of the particularly enjoyable shows, it really wasn’t that I specifically felt it had a strong plot. Oops. “Ghost Man”, definitely. The “Moo-sical”, perhaps was more coherent / consistent?

    I may be on hiatus but I do love the Chorus and don’t plan to miss seeing any shows. Glad you enjoyed and appreciated my effort at a rounded review. I really did love the show, especially after it kicked into high gear in Act 2. Great work by everyone (including you and those I didn’t manage to mention!) All the best!

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