The theatre mockumentary worth making a song and dance about

Save articles for later

Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.

(M) 94 minutes

Theater Camp is concentrated on a primal urge: the unquenchable desire to get on a stage and perform. It’s set in the Adirondacks, the upstate New York region familiar to filmgoers as the home of the summer camp movie. This camp, however, scorns outdoor pursuits. The regulars ostracise anyone who does so much as look at a football. All their energies are devoted to the musical they produce each year.

Molly Gordon and Ben Platt in Theater Camp play producers at a struggling theatre summer camp.

All meanings of the word “camp” apply, for the film is highly histrionic, taking its cues from the hyperactive behaviour of the play’s producers, Rebecca-Diane (Molly Gordon) and Amos (Ben Platt). They make a song and dance out of everything, including their regular camp announcements, which are invariably delivered as musical numbers.

Co-written and co-directed by Gordon, the film is a comic mockumentary in the spirit of Best in Show, Christopher Guest’s celebrated tribute to a similarly obsessive group of dog lovers, but it was inspired by the childhood experiences of Gordon and Platt and the summer school where they first met. Their cast, composers and co-writers are all friends and the whole exercise has an exuberance that speaks of many delirious days and nights of rehearsing, refining and improvising around a piano.

Naturally enough, the story begins with a crisis. The camp’s beloved founder, Joan Rubinsky (Amy Sedaris), has just had a seizure brought on by exposure to the strobe lights in the camp’s most recent production. She’s in a coma and it’s the first Bye Bye Birdie-induced injury in the camp’s history. Nonetheless, the show must go on and Joan’s son Troy (Jimmy Tatro) has stepped into the breach – with mixed results.

Amos has already taken against him, having observed his complete indifference to the showbiz ethos, and even worse, he’s a fan of hip-hop. But Troy can get his head around a financial statement and he’s learnt the bank is about to foreclose on the camp’s loan. As a result, he’s been talking to a suit from the corporation in charge of the camp’s deadliest rival, a nearby camp full of rich kids in chinos and polo shirts who do like ball games.

The film’s pace is fast and frequently furious, given Amos’s propensity for meltdowns, and there’s a grainy look to it, stemming from the directors’ wish to drum up the sense of immediacy you get from cinema verite. But the machine-gun editing helps to punch up fond cliches, such as the audition montage that introduces the kids, and the graphics that punctuate the action have wit, pertinence and belly laughs.

The cast makes up such an effective ensemble that it’s hardly fair to single out individuals, but Noah Galvin is wonderful as the harried and ever-resourceful stage manager who has yet to experience the luxury of sitting down. And Tatro’s tone-deaf Troy, an affable bumbler who never takes offence, becomes almost endearing by the time things are resolved.

The film was a crowd-pleaser at the Sundance Festival, where it scored a second standing ovation when the cast performed an impromptu reprise of the play’s musical finale. It has a few rough patches, but it’s infused with such good-natured enthusiasm and so many good showbiz jokes that resistance is pointless.

Theater Camp is released in cinemas on September 7.

Find out the next TV, streaming series and movies to add to your must-sees. Get The Watchlist delivered every Thursday.

Most Viewed in Culture

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article