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Count Camp as
the rarity it is: a modern movie thats funny and sweet. Musical theater fanatics
will revel in its delicious details; the rest of us will simply enjoy some snappy,
self-aware kids who have the lungs of Ethel Merman.
Writer/director Todd Graff based the film on his own experiences at a
summer performing arts camp (he was 8-year-old Robert Downey Jr.s counselor at
Stagedoor Manor in New York) and his love for the place seeps from every frame. Most of
the campers at Camp Ovation are geeks: slightly round Ellen (Joanna Chilcoat) had to take
her brother to the prom; gay Michael (Robin De Jesus) attended his prom in drag; fat Jenna
(Tiffany Taylor) had her jaws wired shut; and put-upon Fritzi (Anna Kendrick) feels
compelled to follow Jill (Alana Allen), the bitchy blonde, around.
Throwing things appealingly out of sync and at the base of the
films love rectangle is Vlad (Daniel Letterle), the hunky straight guy who
incredulously doesnt know who Stephen Sondheim is. Sondheim, in fact, donated
three songs to the soundtrack, giving "Camps" terrific music sequences
real depth and authenticity. Theres no denying the power when Fritzi finally breaks
out her chains with a kick-butt performance of "The Ladies Who Lunch" from Company.
Or how about a hilarious version of Burt Bacharach and Hal Davids
"Turkey Lurkey Time" from Promises, Promises and a moving rendition of
Henry Kreigers "And I Am Telling You Im Not Going" from Dreamgirls.
Graff and his well credentialed team -- including composer s Michael
Gore of Fame
and Stephen Trask of Hedwig
and the Angry Inch, choreographer Jerry Mitchell of Hairspray, and music supervisor Tim Weil of Rent know what theyre doing.
They even throw in some classic rock, as Vlad immediately starts breaking hearts during
his audition, singing the Rolling Stones "Wild Horses."
When the kids chat about tryouts, chiding each other about being trite
with "Dont Rain on My Parade," its only the beginning of the
avalanche of musical theater references. The flow of jokes, though, is supported by the
weight of the characters, who remain cozy misfits, not precious after-school special types
or canned "American Idol" wannabes. The kids music coach, Bert (Don
Dixon), an alcoholic composer who couldnt follow up a Broadway smash, adds an
appropriate dose of cynicism to the party, but its done in such an over-the-top,
clunky way that his message about the worlds harsh reality is destroyed.
And why would the camp director allow such a nasty drunk to verbally
abuse such talented, devoted kids? Yet this nagging question doesnt even begin to
detract from Camps overall good vibes and humor. Any movie beginning with a
bunch of real kids singing serious gospel from their hearts in the rain, and closing with
an equally inspirational and rousing pop song by Todd Rundgren, cant be all bad.
- Leslie Katz