Camp Jabberwocky stages “Frankenstein’s Last Dance”

Camp Jabberwocky stages “Frankenstein’s Last Dance”

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Scott, Hank Kiely, Peter — Photo by Meg Higgins

Mix together a crew of zombie-like monsters, a flock of sweet angels, some cheerful red-horned devils, a batch of good-hearted, hard-working Amish folk who just want to keep their community free from sin — or at least from electricity. Add a crazed doctor, spirited musicians, and a camp full of inspired performers and you get an evening of colorful fun. These were the ingredients for “Frankenstein’s Last Dance,” Camp Jabberwocky’s hilarious play presented July 18 and 19.

Juan singing
Juan singing.

Those lucky audience members who squeezed into the crowded studio for the show enjoyed an evening of heart-warming, rib-tickling wackiness as the campers went all out to entertain. It was hard to tell who was having a better time — the campers and counselors singing, dancing, mugging, and cavorting on stage or the guests who got into the spirit, cheering, applauding, and singing along.

Thanks to the keyboardist David Thompson’s friendship with a counselor, the Philadelphia band “Big Tusk” joined by camper Jason Lopes added professional glitz.

Helen Lamb, known as “Hellcat,” who died in 2011, began the camp for individuals with cerebral palsy and other disabilities in 1953. Beginning in an Oak Bluffs summer cottage, Jabberwocky now occupies a spacious Vineyard Haven campus donated by Grace Episcopal Church years ago.

The play is a high point in the camp’s busy first session that includes the Prom, field trips to beaches, baseball games, concerts, private gatherings, and the July Fourth Parade where Jabberwocky members are enthusiastic participants.

The studio was festive, strung with tiny lights, and packed with a standing-room-only crowd. The band started playing early, setting the upbeat mood.

Ben Winter and Myles
Ben Winter and Myles.

The story was complex and zany, characters and themes appearing and reappearing as though in a Technicolor dream. There was the talking horse who would amble through; a fellow in an Island shirt, shades, and shorts, bogeying and bopping from scene to scene. A counselor or two would bounce in and twirl or cartwheel across the stage.

Focus was on Dr. Frankenstein, the monster-making madman. But instead of Transylvania, this doc lives in Pennsylvania and that’s the problem.

For while Dr. Frankenstein and his monster band collect body parts and patchwork them into people, the upstanding Amish are troubled. It’s not the ghoulish process that bothers them, but the use of electricity — an Amish “no-no” — to revive the creatures. Meanwhile, angels try to maintain harmony; devils make mischief; monsters return to the crypt to collect more body parts.

Every camper was a star, shining bright. Especially memorable were the green-suited, top-hatted “Puttin’ on the Ritz” tap dancer, sweet voiced, smiling angels, the young man grinning ever wider as two counselors spun his wheelchair in the dance. Another camper exultantly flew through the air as four counselors lifted him from his wheelchair and aloft — jubilantly free at last! A vivacious, sparkly-eyed wheelchair-bound devil delivered a memorable address. Others danced, their walkers no encumbrance.

Even Camp director Johanna (“JoJo”) Romero de Slavy, RN, and assistant director Kristen (“Sully”) Sullivan St. Amour got in the act, bouncing around the stage in Amish and devil garb.

There were ballads, rap, rock tunes, solos and ensemble numbers. When the angels started singing “Sweet Caroline” with others backing them up, arm-waves and all, the building rocked.

“They sing just with no inhibitions!” said one thrilled audience member, having just experienced her first Jabberwocky play.

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The grand finale.

Later there were make-your-own ice cream sundaes for all, performers and audience alike. The scene in the community hall was jubilant, exultant campers and counselors reliving their moments on stage.

Like any camp anywhere, proud parents and relatives were on hand to congratulate their sons and daughters, sharing ice cream and stories.

These campers may have disabilities, as friends and fans of Jabberwocky know. But they have no challenges when it comes to having fun and celebrating life, offering a valuable example to the rest of us.

The show was lovingly dedicated to Manny Furtado and Sean Wawrzaszek who died since last summer.

Mike Leon, a counselor from Boston who directed the show, said that this year’s approach was different from usual, and the emphasis more than ever was on spontaneity.

Unlike last year’s “Romeo and Juliet in Las Vegas” which writers/directors worked on for months, this play started with the campers. Mr. Leon and others asked campers who wanted to be Angels, Devils, Amish, Monsters, and found a perfect Dr. Frankenstein.

“We asked ‘what would you have the most fun doing?’” said Mr. Leon. “It felt like a pretty natural process.”

He said the story grew out of camp dynamics, friendships, and all aspects of Jabberwocky life.

“We let it naturally write itself. The only thing left for me to do was cut and paste.”

The campers immersed themselves in monster activities and classes, drawing their ideas of the Frankenstein monster. The art activity evolved into the backdrop at the rear of the stage, entirely created by campers.

Mr. Leon has volunteered at Jabberwocky for seven years. Like many other counselors he works a regular day job — advertising in his case — 11 months each year, but looks forward to his July at Jabberwocky.

“This is the center of every year,” he said.

The second-session Camp Jabberwocky play is Saturday, Aug. 9, 7:30 pm. For info, visit campjabberwocky.org.