From SF Weekly
January 24, 2012
By Tamara Palmer
In 2001’s Wet Hot American Summer — a raucous send-up of 1980s summer-camp movies — the counselors vow to meet up 10 years later in 1991, when they’ll all be in their late 20s, to see how they’ve fared. And just over a decade since the film’s release, many of its main players reunited on stage at the Marines Memorial Theatre Saturday to reinterpret Wet Hot American Summer as a live radio play.
The star power of some of the actors, such as Paul Rudd (as deliciously obnoxious cute boy Andy) and Amy Poehler (as edgy musical theater director Susie) has soared in the past 10 years, but the biggest responses of the evening were reserved for Christopher Meloni. Having later starred in dramas including Oz and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Meloni is typically cast in intense, noncomedic roles, and he poured it all into his on stage turn as Gene, Wet Hot’s batshit refrigerator-humping Vietnam-vet camp cook. Seriously funny.
Two singers, a keyboardist, and a sound-effects specialist flanked the line of performers, who lingered in the back until they were needed for a scene and would run up to the microphones in front. Sound effects helped emulate the noises from making out, driving a hooptie, apocalyptic winds — all achieved with appropriately primitive tools.
Most of the main actors were on hand, save for Janeane Garofalo (whose stand-in was Busy Philipps) and David Hyde Pierce (his role taken over by David Cross) with a funny twist of replacing all of the kid roles with exceedingly expressive adults, including a brilliantly caped John Hodgman as a Dungeons & Dragons nerd. Bruce McCulloch, best known from The Kids in the Hall, rocked a lovely falsetto to play Aaron, the pre-teen paramour to Molly Shannon’s distraught art teacher Gail von Kleinenstein.
But in an evening full of curveballs, the most surprising substitution had to be that of Bobcat Goldthwait for Gene’s beloved friend, a can of vegetables. Goldthwait was a very smiley can of vegetables.
It’s been 10 years, but the paths of many of these people have continued to intertwine. There was still an easy chemistry among those who might not have subsequently worked together, such as Michael Showalter (also the co-writer, as dorky counselor Coop) and Marguerite Moreau (as his counselor crush Katie).
The film runs 97 minutes and crams a lot of plot into the last 24 hours of camp, including the threat of death from a falling piece of NASA Skylab shrapnel. But the radio play didn’t take quite as long, even with the full pantomiming of some of its most hilarious montage sequences (narrated by director/co-writer David Wain). These were the moments when having the singers (Paul and Storm) was particularly appreciated.
The performance was filmed, but it would also be quite intriguing to hear how this turned out as a strict radio-inspired session. It was fun to relive some of the best lines and ideas, but even more exciting to watch the actors having human moments: The little looks exchanged between them after a scene brought additional life. Even the little flubs — Amy Poehler dropping her script, Paul Rudd commenting on the banality of his character after uttering a particularly petulant line — helped make this a memorable presentation of a cult classic.