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USA 2003
Directed by
Todd Graff
114 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Ruth Williams
3.5 stars


Synopsis: Camp Ovation is for kids who are into musical theatre. It’s a place where every bathroom performer can go to test their mettle. Here we meet Vlad (Daniel Letterle), Ellen (Joanna Chilcoat) and Michael (Joanna Chilcoat), each of them a fish-out-of-water in their own way. Even among like-minded people it is soon clear that factions exist and problems are not always solved with an easy answer. When Bert Hanley (Don Dixon) arrives to take up his role as guest director, the enthusiasm of the students comes up against the cynicism of a man who has lost touch with his own dreams.

Todd Graff has written a script loosely based on his own experience of attending Stagedoor Manor, a theatrical camp in the Catskills in upstate New York. His fondness for the characters and sensitivity to their concerns suggests that his experience at theatre camp had a major impact on his life. Graff has made his mark in film mainly as an actor, and in a lesser degree as a screenwriter. This is his first turn at directing. It’s impressive that he is able to hold such affection for an experience he had almost twenty years ago, and realise it through the performances of a group of young people who have not acted in film before.

The characters in the film, with their penchant for Steven Sondheim songs, risk the wrath of film audiences as much as they do of the majority of kids back in their respective home towns. Let’s face it, musical theatre is not cool. Watching this film will bring up your own demons. Were you one of the kids in the drama group? Or maybe you have always hated those nerdy kids who get their rocks off singing lines like “I’m gonna live forever, baby remember my name”?

There is passion written all over this film. From the director’s determination to make the film he wanted to see on the screen, to the dedication of the ‘unknown’ actors whose love of singing and performing adds an authenticity that can’t be manufactured. The film opens with a stirring number, sung by the full cast, How Shall I See You Through My Tears. It is slightly confusing in regard to how it fits in the chronology of the film, however it is has the desired effect of setting the mood and showcasing the skills of these young performers.

Although Camp has its share of characters we have seen before, and lines we have heard before, to respond cynically would be as harsh as accusing a three-year-old of being derivative in singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. I’ve seen this film twice, and would probably watch it again, even just to see Tiffany Taylor’s (Jenna) rendition of Here’s Who I Am in the closing scenes of the film. Go and be entertained, you might just see a bit of yourself up there on the screen.




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