A review of “Camp” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for language and sexuality

Run Time: 1 hour, 54 minutes

 

 

Kitschy, sweet, and kind of nutty, this small-town cousin to 1980’s splashy, big-budget “Fame” is a delightful exercise in, well, camp.

Welcome to Camp Ovation, a musical theater summer program overflowing with untapped talent and an excess of adolescent hormones. Hewing to the cry of the bright lights is a diverse group of eager teens, traversing a broad spectrum of race, flair, and dysfunction.

Big man on campus is Vlad (Daniel Letterle), a hunky, straight guitar player who rooms with Michael (Robin de Jesus), a pimple-faced drag queen consumed by issues of family and sexuality.  Vlad gets it on with veteran camp wallflower Ellen (Joanne Chilcoat), while Ovation vamp Jill (Alana Allen) stands in the wings gleefully devising evil seduction strategies.

With a subtle nod to “All About Eve” and “Heathers”, manipulation and bitchy back-stabbing take center stage for the less altruistic of Ovation’s gifted youngsters. Once past the slipshod back-story dramatics, “Camp” goes straight to the heart of star-struck ingénues who live to perform

Weeks of rehearsal and effort culminate in The Benefit, a grand musical review that showcases genius and squashes lifelong dreams.  Adding insult to injury is summer Benefit director Bert Hanley (Don Dixon) a bitter, alcoholic Broadway composer cum buzz-kill whose hits have long ago run dry.  But in the grand tradition of theater legend, The Show Must Go On.

“Camp” has its problems.  It’s crudely scripted, carelessly directed, and amateurly acted. Fortunately these bright kids are brimming with an exuberant enthusiasm whose infectious energy is impossible to resist.  Fully executed musical numbers are disappointingly sparse considering the source, but there are genuine show-stoppers in the mix --- in particular downtrodden Jenna’s (Tiffany Taylor) powerful “Here’s Where I Stand” and timid Fritzi’s (Anne Kendrick) torrid rendition of “Ladies Who Lunch”.   

Writer/director Todd Graff is a veteran of the real-life performing arts camp Stagedoor Manor in Loch Sheldrake, New York (whose notable alumni include Natalie Portman, Robert Downey, Jr., etc.).  Consequently he knows his material --- a world where fantasies can become realities, social misfits are seamless fits, and Stephen Sondheim reigns supreme.  Standing O for the effort.