When I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s in a suburban neighborhood, most
             children spent their summers at home. If we were lucky, there was always one kid whose
             family installed a swimming pool and he or she quickly became the most popular child on
             the block. Otherwise, we contented ourselves with playing kickball in the street and riding
             our bikes. The closest I ever got to attending camp was taking part in a six-week program
             run by my high school drama coach. Those memories flooded back while I was watching
          CAMP, the charming feature directorial debut of actor-writer Todd Graff.

                     Graff spent three summers attending Stage Door Manor in the Catskills, and later
             returned as a counselor. His screenplay about those heady days is infused with wit and
             affection. Although the script was completed several years ago, the film was unable to get
             funding, in part because musicals had fallen out of vogue and there were issues over
             obtaining rights to the songs that were an integral part of the story. Once Graff obtained
             the permission of Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim (who makes a cameo appearance)
             and following the success of such diverse screen musicals as
DANCER IN THE DARK, he was able to realize his vision.

                  CAMP is modeled somewhat on both the Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland films of
             the 1930s and
FAME, the 1980 Alan Parker-directed musical that followed several students
             at New York's famed High School of Performing Arts. Both featured a multicultural cast of
             talented newcomers who sing, dance and act.
CAMP centers on three main characters:  
             Michael (Robin de Jesus), an Hispanic drag queen with bad skin, Ellen (Joanne Chilcoat),
             an insecure, plain, yet talented young woman, and Vlad (Daniel Letterle), a handsome,
             conflicted youth blessed with good looks and a desire to act.

                     While each of the youngsters is a misfit in "real" life, he or she finds kindred spirits at
             Camp Ovation where every two weeks they put on multiple productions. In the opening
             scene (featuring Sasha Allen, Stephen Cutts and the company delivering a rousing
             rendition of "How Shall I See You Through My Tears" from
The Gospel at Colonus),
             Graff introduces these three protagonists and uses the song to indicate that this is not
             going to be a comedy along the lines of
MEATBALLS. There's an admixture of joy and
             pain in that first musical number that captures the themes explored by the film. Yet the
             film remains at heart a celebration of theater.

                     Graff's script is far from perfect, though. Some characters are not as fleshed out as
             one might hope, and there a too many subplots, some of which get lost. Much more
             could have been  made of the plight of Bert Hanley (played by Don Dixon), an alcoholic
             composer living off the fame of his one big success. And I truly wished there had been
             more of the rivalry between the bitchy, superior Jill (Alana Allen) and the mousy Fritzi
             (scene-stealer Anna Kendrick), but what exists is truly delicious.

                     The film's score includes an eclectic blend of rock/pop songs and well-known
             Broadway tunes as well as two lovely new songs by composer Michael Gore and
             lyricist Lynn Ahrens. Letterle delivers the plangent ballad "I Sing for You" and Tiffany
             Taylor offers the showstopping gospel-tinged "Here's Where I Stand."

CAMP has its flaws, the talented cast and Graff's overriding respect and delight
             overcome any serious deficiencies. This film is one of the pleasures in a summer crowded
             with overblown sequels and big-scale action films.

 Rating:                                 B-
MPAA Rating:                    PG-13 (mild profanity, sexual situations)       
Running time:                114 minutes

                                                            Viewed at Magno Review One
© 2008 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved.