‘Where in the World? The Untold Story of Camilla Sanfrancisco’
The Studio Theatre
1501 14th Street, NW
By day, Patrick English and Jeff Vonch are patent examiners at the U.S. Patent office in Alexandria, but by night and on weekends they’re busy producing, writing and (in Vonch’s case) choreographing musical theater. When their new musical “Where in the World? The Untold Story of Camilla Sanfrancisco” premiers Thursday as part of the Capital Fringe Festival, everyone can see the result of the gay duo’s arduous efforts.
For English and Vonch, making fun of cultural touchstones from their youth is a favorite pastime. One of their preferred targets is Carmen Sandiego, the animated villainess of educational video games and TV programs popular in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Last year following one of their nostalgic confabs, Vonch received an uncharacteristically serious email from English suggesting that they collaborate on a musical about the red fedora-wearing Sandiego and her mysterious transformation from good to bad. What’s more, he wanted them to produce the show themselves.
“At first I thought he was crazy,” says Vonch, 26. “Neither of us had ever done anything like that before. How were we going to write a musical and produce? Then I got scared. I have aspirations to direct and do standup, but I also have big fears about putting my work out there before the public. Still, something told me to go for it.”
Soon after, collaboration began in earnest. As lyricists, the nervy twosome teamed up with established local composer Adrian Verkouteren to write an eight-song score. Prior to penning the musical’s libretto, English and Vonch researched Carmen’s backstory. She was a child genius who grew up to be an ace detective at ACME Detective Agency. Later she defected to a nasty villain league (V.I.L.E.) simply because she was bored. The novice librettists weren’t sold on Carmen’s motivation, so they decided to go a different way.
“We named our character Camilla Sanfrancisco. It’s a parody; it’s our story,” says English, 30. “Our Camilla [played by Vanessa Kinzey] is the victim of a frame-up orchestrated by a far-flung coterie of evildoers. Camilla travels the world working her way through henchman [and women] until she confronts the evil boss. It’s like a video game. Her stopping in India and Buenos Aires helps to make the show musically interesting. We’ve inserted both Bollywood and Tango numbers.”
With more than 130 shows performed in venues throughout town, the Capital Fringe Festival is D.C.’s foremost annual performing arts event. Offerings run the gamut from dance, drama and music to spoken word and puppetry. The work is often touted as edgy, offbeat and refreshing. Sometimes that’s the case, but not always.
Though both are patrons of the D.C. theater scene, Vonch and English haven’t been so involved in a theatrical production since high play days in Minooka, Ill., and Northern California, respectively.
“One of the great benefits of Fringe is that the relatively inexperienced can wear many hats. On this show, we’re co-producers, co-lyricists, co-librettists and Jeff is choreographer,” English says. “We’ve learned a lot. As co-producers we’ve put out a lot of fires and signed a lot of checks, but ultimately to see our work brought to life by such talented people is a really moving experience. It’s hard to put into the words.”
While a lot of Fringe productions cover adult terrain. English describes “Camilla” as PG-13. He says that it doesn’t focus directly on the LGBT experience, but does deal with gender and features a genderqueer character. Mostly, he adds, it’s a fun musical with good music and even better performances sung by a seven-person cast.
“Based on how we interact, people think Patrick and I have known each other forever, but it’s only been one year. Coming into this, I didn’t want our friendship to crumble or become all business and it hasn’t,” Vonch says. “Back in January, I told Patrick that however it turns out we’re going to give this show to the world. Luckily it’s going to be amazing.”
For more information about this and other shows, visit capfringe.org.