Writer-directors Molly Gordon and Nick Liberman’s short film, Theater Camp proved to be a hit with the performing arts community- a short but cutting satire of the trials and tribulations that a theatre kid experiences when treading the boards at a summer camp in upstate New York. They have since expanded the premise to 93 minutes and gained the star power of Ben Platt, who is also credited as a co-writer.

A hit at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, the story of Troy, an influencer who loves Post Malone, but is unsure why the kids refer to him as a “Music Man”, is tasked with running his mother’s theatre camp, after she suffers a stroke, in what is told as “the first-ever Bye Bye Birdie incident in Passaic County” (one of the films many laugh out loud jokes).  Presented in “mockumentary fashion”, we then follow the camp season, leading up to the opening night of the original musical, Joan, Still, a tribute to their founder whose status is left ambiguous to comic effect. 

On paper, Theater Camp has the potential to fall into the territory of a smug in-joke with little appeal. It’s, therefore, a delight to say that while theatre kids and indeed adults will see plenty of recognisable scenarios, the deft and well-observed comedy helps this in its aim to appeal to the masses.

Whilst the Theatre Camp is a US tradition, anyone who has performed in theatre will recognise the anticipation of a cast list, the bickering between creatives and in a particular brilliantly observed scene, the trading and negotiating of which director gets which actor for their show. Musical theatre fans will no doubt revel in references galore from Les Misérables, to a genuinely moving finale number that tips its hat fully to Jonathan Larson and Jason Robert Brown 

From a performance side, the cast pitch it right between the line of absurdity and pathos. Ayo Edebri, star of the hit show, The Bear provides deadpan comedy as Janet Walch who “lied on her CV”, and needs a “legal” definition of stage fighting from her pupils. The real heart of the film, however, comes from the central relationship of Amos and Rebecca-Dianne played brilliantly by Platt and Morgan respectively. A co-dependent but rocky dynamic that follows its arch through to a genuine heartfelt resolution.  

In terms of its mockumentary format, I think the film is slightly less successful. We are told from the start that this is a documentary, but characters rarely behave as if there is a film crew following them. This is also evident from a direction point of view: certain sequences have a variety of qualities, whereas others are shot in a conventionally cinematic format. It is a medium that the film does not fully commit to, in the same way, that the most recent season of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series did. Both feature theatre camps and musicals, but couldn’t be further from each other tonally speaking. 

With its deft direction, likeable cast, and laugh-a-minute screenplay, I feel like the filmmakers and intended demographic were on the same page of what it’s like to be a theatre kid.

“They’re weird but they’re wonderful” exclaims Troy at a key moment. Yes, yes, we sort of are. Encore!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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