Putting on a Show
It is hard to believe that “Camp” is twelve years old; it feels like I just saw it yesterday, which in effect I did because I watched it again. It is the story of songwriter Bert Hanley (Don Dixon) who has had a series of Broadway flops and goes to work at a musical camp for young performers. Inspired by the kids, he finds an opportunity to regain success by staging an altogether new production.
At home most of the kids who came to camp were misfits. Here they ignore the sports program and spend all of their time rehearing for a new show every two weeks. As they do, we hear their personal stories.
At Camp Ovation, these campers are quite the motley crew of queens, fag hags, subservient losers, fat girls and one straight dude and we are there with them as they lament their afflictions before learning to accept themselves. The story follows transgender Latino Michael (Robin De Jesus) and his relationship with straight boy Vlad (David Letterle), “a mini Dave Matthews who ends up seducing more than the unpopular Ellen (Joanna Chilcoat)”. We see Vlad as a genuinely troublesome gay fantasy: a cute, white “golden boy” who is so comfortable with his sexuality that he becomes the supreme object of everyone’s affections.
Vlad is eager to prove that he’s straight and does so by making out with three girls. Vlad is a charmer who has an inveterate need to win people over. Ellen is a tomboy who hangs out with gay guys; Michael (Robin De Jesus) was beaten up by male classmates and rejected by his parents after he attended his high school prom in drag; Jill (Alana Allen) is a blonde who loves getting everyone’s attention; Fritzi (Anna Kendrick), Jill’s roommate is her humble servant and gofer; Dee (Sasha Allen) is an African-American whose vocal talents are acknowledged by all; and Jenna’s (Tiffany Taylor) parents have had her mouth wired shut so she won’t gain any more weight while she is away from home.
Writer and director Todd Graff’s comedy is on his experiences as a camper and counselor at an upstate New York theatre camp. The kids are required to put on a new show for audiences every two weeks and the teenagers are real troopers who still find time to agonize over their private problems. Vlad admits to Michael, who has a crush on him, that he has an obsessive-compulsive problem that lies behind his need to act and perform music. At the same time, he tries to draw out the shy and socially awkward Ellen who was so desperate to attend the prom that she had to ask her brother to take her.
The kids aren’t the only ones dealing with their problems like the afore mentioned Bert Hanley who has been blocked and boozing it up for years after having a hit show on Broadway. The busy Vlad decides to surprise him with a musical tribute.
We see a typical, if overtly gay, collection of kids from all walks of life and they all seem to have issues with life and family. The best things about “Camp” are the individual performances. The musical numbers, and score by Stephen Trask have a lot of energy and are well choreographed.Anyone who’s ever hummed a show tune or pulled props and wardrobe from an attic to put on a show should have a good time with the kids at “Camp.”