***** (Five Stars)
Like every good stage show, Alice Haefeli: A Camp Life is a story with three distinct but intertwined acts. It starts with a musical theatre burst and ends in a bit of a mystery (leaving the audience wanting more, of course), but it’s clear this show is on the right track, and will have an ending that will leave you satisfied.
When we first meet the star of our show, Alice is starring as a witch in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight at musical theatre camp at age three. The theatre bug clearly bit her early on, but the camp bug left an impression that would manifest itself much later on. At this “camper stage” of the show, Alice only really visits camp a few times, including whale camp in Canada and an overnight camp in Cape Cod. Most camp shows don’t get off the ground with so little exposure, but Alice shows determination and grit as she discovers who she is, and as the second act opens, the audience is leaning in towards the stage to see what might happen as the plot unfolds.
Act Two of Alice’s life is where we begin to see the transformation from camp lover to camp evangelist. She spends six years serving in a variety of roles at a New Jersey day camp, and begins to understand the power that camp staff have on the life of their campers. Although camp staff don’t always walk on water, the impression that they might just be able to pull that off means that counsellors and program staff can make a serious impact on the life of those in their care, and Alice finds herself drawn to that power. The question remains: can she wield that power in such a way that she can change the world, just like those who’ve gone before her?
The third act of Alice’s camp career, the denouement, is still unfinished. Here the musical takes a bit of a sideways turn as she waits (in the wings?) for the path forward to become clear. Alice has moved from the realm of summer staff into the world of year-round, dedicated camp staff. It’s a waiting game, of course, with so many opportunities open to her that the plot isn’t immediately obvious.
“My dream is to start something new and fresh, something that’s my own,” she says, looking with bright-eyed optimism towards the future. She believes that camp makes people into well-rounded humans, and she wants to be there to help campers become who they need to be. One can’t help but be impressed by her sheer positivity, even in the face of earlier mornings, camper issues and staff care.
That optimism is what ultimately wins this reviewer over: no matter what the road looks like, her confidence and dedication have convinced us that big things are to come. We’re already looking forward to the sequel.