Camp brings both these definitions together in ridiculously well-tuned harmony. The IFC flick is Glee if it took place 7 years earlier and traded McKinley High for a makeshift wilderness site called Camp Ovation. It follows one summer in the life of said camp’s set of musically-inclined misfits and the newest staff member/retired theatre dude, who would rather drink than do Dreamgirls with a 75% white cast again. Like every other camp movie, Camp features lots awkward unrequited romances, food fights, starlit self-discovery and an end of the year talent show. What makes it different is that in place of simple sing-song sound-offs, these campers take Sondheim by storm.The characters in this underappreciated flick are so similar to the ones on FOX’s breakout TV musical, I’m surprised
Camp‘s crew hasn’t taken some sort of legal action. There’s the over-achieving, misunderstood girl, Ellen (or should I call her Rachel Berry?), the straight and clueless stud, Vlad (hello, Finn!), the lovestruck and lost gay boy, Kurt (I mean, Michael!), the blonde bitchface, Jill (think Quinn pre-preggo), the super-talented but super-self conscious could-be diva, Jenna (Mercedes, with less fab clothes) and the sneaky, secretly talented scene-stealer, Fritzi (sounds a lot like Glee‘s supposed newcomer, Charice). So I guess it’s safe to say Gleeks will love it by default. But unlike that show, which flaunts it’s sudden musicality, you don’t have to be a Broadway nerd to really get down with Camp. The songs in this movie are simply done as part of the montages of the various shows the campers do over the summer. In other words, there’s no random singing into the camera (well, except for the opening scene, but that is meant to be a dream sequence), which turns many people off big-screen sing-a-longs completely. Like
Once, where the folk songs felt like an extension of the main characters’ street performer lifestyle, these performances are natural fit, given the circumstances.In addition to seeming organic, the songs are just flat-out awesome. All the characters do their own singing, and impress big time. The highlights include a group-sing to Todd Rundgren’s “A Want of a Nail” and a young Anna Kendrick (You know, the younger Oscar-nominee
from Up in the Air and Bella’s fair-weather friend in Twilight) singing “The Ladies Who Lunch” from 70s stage classic Company. As she belts the track’s climax, which asks everyone to “rise”, the audience slowly gets up and gives her a standing o. Don’t be surprised if you do the same thing in your living room. It’s no wonder this girl got nominated for a Tony at 13. Her crazed take on fame-hungry Fritzi is genius.But even without the songs and the backstage melodrama (Fritzi totes poisons Jill to get that number!),
Camp would still shine like a B-way sign after hours. Robin de Jesus, who has starred in recent Tony-winners In the Heights and the revival of La Cage aux Folles, will break your heart as Angel Dumott Schumard’s distant cousin, Michael. The opening montage where he imagines Camp Ovation to keep from accepting the reality that he’s getting beaten up for dressing in drag at a high-school dance is Kleenex-city. Joanna Chilcoat is also great at playing up both Ellen’s innate talent and epic discomfort with her feelings for Vlad. And Daniel Letterle is seriously crush-worthy as the only straight dude on site. If he doesn’t reel you in with his Dirk Diggler karate tribute, he’ll certainly get you with his rendition of The Rolling Stones’ best ballad, “Wild Horses.” Swooning, yet?At one point in Camp, the ambitious young actors get a chance to meet the godfather of all that is modern musical theatre, Mr. Stephen Sondheim. It’s not a back of the head shot or an alluded-to scene either, we actually see the man on-screen as a bona fide part of the story. The fact that such a legend agreed to take part in this little indie film says that it’s more than just a campy tribute to musical nerds and their showbiz dreams. Like the underdogs that make every theatre camp thrive, it’s actually really special.