Theater Camp

Posted on July 13, 2023 at 5:53 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some strong language, suggestive material, and /drug references
Profanity: Some strong anguage
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 14, 2023

Copyright Searchlight 2023
“Theater Camp” is a true labor of love from people who are former theater kids. They love the children who somehow know from birth that they were born to be performers, and seem to bypass the world of Raffi, JoJo, pop, and rock but know all of the songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Stephen Sondheim by the time when they’re still collecting from the tooth fairy.

Molly Gordon (“Broken Hearts Gallery”), Ben Platt (“Dear Evan Hanson” and “Pitch Perfect”), Noah Galvin (“The Real O’Neals”) and Nick Lieberman clearly know and love the world of theater kids, so the humor is pointed but affectionate. The passion for performance in both the kids and the adults who teach them is sometimes over the top, but the film is clear that it is these special people who can “turn cardboard into gold.” And at the heart of the film is what someone says near the end: theater camp is a place for people who are not accepted anyplace else.

The camp is called AdirondACTS and it is owned by Joan Rubinsky (Amy Sederis) and managed by Rita Cohen (Caroline Aaron of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”). They are good at scrambling to get enough campers and enough money to keep it going (“I know he’s awful and tone deaf but his father is rich”) until Joan has a seizure at a grade school production of “Bye Bye Birdie” (one of the film’s weakest ideas). She is in a coma and so her son Troy (Jimmy Tatro) has to take over. He as very much not a theater kid and he is not a business guy, either. The snooty rich kid camp sees this as an opportunity, and their representative (Patti Harrison) makes an offer to take it over.

The camp teachers include alumnae Amos (Tony winner Platt) and Rebecca-Diane (Gordon), whose ultra-close friendship is getting claustrophobic. Each year, they create an original musical for the campers to put on, and this year it will be “Joan, Still,” a tribute to the camp founder. There are also other productions, including a junior version of “The Crucible.” And there is an exhausted tech (a terrific Noah Galvin) and a teacher assigned to cover everything from masks to stage combat even though she has no idea about any of it and lied on her resume (a game Ayo Edebiri).

The film gently points at the pretensions and dysfunctions in the world of theater kids and adults, but it reminds us that they really do turn cardboard into gold throughout, especially with a final musical number that is at the same time rousing, hilarious, and heartwarming.

Parents should know that this movie has some strong language, a drug reference involving children, and some mild sexual references.

Family discussion: Why did Amos call himself a performer working full-time as a teacher? Why didn’t Rebecca-Diane tell him what she was doing? What is the best part of being in a show?

If you like this, try: “Camp,” “Magic Camp,” and “Waiting for Guffman”

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