Thursday, April 24, 2014



I have decided. What good is sitting alone in my room? Come hear the music play. It's time to roll up my sleeves, even on this lovely little Galliano frock I'm currently wearing, and get back out there with a new entertainment project worthy of my prodigious talents. I have instructed Joseph, my manager, to make the rounds announcing my immediate availability and the scripts are starting to come in. The first one, which arrived in this morning's Fed Ex delivery, is a musical version of The Silence of the Lambs where I would, I presume, play the plucky young heroine Clarice. The tone seems a bit darker than my usual fare and, from what I can tell, there are no rousing tap ensembles (although an early number for the FBI students at the Quantico academy does have certain possibilities). I'm also not quite sure about the proposed slogan - 'It's E-Lecter-fying'. Perhaps if I could get them to change it to 'It's E-Lester-fying' we might get somewhere.

Normy is also out looking for a new project that will accommodate both his prodigious talents and his stunning new look. He seems to have gained a certain amount of musicianship with his merged being and so he's investigating a new television project, 'Lives of the Great Composers for the Pianoforte', a series for one of the more obscure cable channels. Each week, he would play a different musical figure such as Liszt or Chopin in a series of biographical vignettes utilizing their music. The production company is starting with John Cage for the pilot. I've made him promise to let me make a special guest appearance when they get to Irving Berlin.

With all of this talent bursting from the seams of Chateau Maine, we collapsed in the home theater the other evening with a film that celebrates life, love, talent and musical theater, Todd Graff's 2003 film Camp which dramatizes events at a summer camp for teens specializing in theater performance. Graff, a veteran of both Broadway (Baby with Liz Callaway) and film (The AbyssFive Corners), based it on his real life experiences as a guest director at the Stage Door theater camp in upstate New York. The film purports to be a funny and affectionate look at the budding chorines and show queens whence will come the next generation of theatrical talent. Unfortunately, it's a bit more complicated than that. Writer/director Graff, in his attempt to add depth and complexity, mixes emotions and genres in some very strange ways that make the resulting stew a bit on the unpalatable side.

The plot centers on Vlad (Daniel Letterle), seemingly the only straight boy in residence, who has discovered acting as a way to bring focus to his life. He ends up rooming with Michael (Robin DeJesus), a very nelly little Hispanic with the air of Eve Arden in Stage Door, but a good heart. His best friend, budding faghag Ellen (Joanna Chilcoat), immediately falls for Vlad (as does Michael) and there's a very strange little emotional threesome in which Vlad manages to use and disappoint his friends. Meanwhile, Bert Hanley (Don Dixon), a washed up ex-Broadway composer, has taken a job as resident director for the summer. Vlad, a big fan, attempts to persuade him to get back to the work he knows so well and before you know it, we're well into 'Hey Kids, Let's Put On A Show'.

When the film is busy with plot and character development, it tends to fall on its face. Vlad, even though engagingly played by the talented Letterle, is one step this side of sociopath in his actions (and he's who we're supposed to be rooting for). His brazen manipulations, which he seems to think he's entitled to by being good looking, talented, straight, and white, leave a rather bad taste in the mouth, at least of this viewer and make the upbeat ending entirely implausible. Perhaps Graff means Vlad to be an indictment of the US culture's power structure, but, if that's the agenda, why do it in what amounts to an amiable summer camp comedy? The other characters tend to be a grab bag of walking clichés, but the performers are good enough to give them a little humanity, even in some awfully trite situations.

Where the film succeeds is in its affectionate send up of theater and the world of teen theater buffs. From the early sequence when the kids on the bus are having a sing-a-long to Sondheim's 'Losing My Mind', to the sports counselor being the loneliest figure at the camp to the occasionally hysterical numbers from the shows within the show. The talented supporting cast brings pep to such things as 'Turkey Lurkey Time' from Promises, Promises, 'The Ladies Who Lunch' from Company and 'And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going' from Dreamgirls, usually performed by a wildly inappropriate cast of teenagers. The effect is both witty as the casting is impossible for the roles and eerie as the kids have such terrific talent. In many ways, the minor subplots that swirl around, especially a teenage All About Eve are much more engaging. The Eve figure, Fritzi, is played by young Broadway powerhouse Anna Kendrick who has quite a career in front of her.

The film was made at the summer camp location, doubtless using some of the real kids as background color. It has a late in the proceedings cameo from Stephen Sondheim (as himself) who gets the kind of build up usually reserved for an uncredited Paul Newman. It has the look of an indie made on the cheap, but everyone involved appears to have been having a great deal of fun.

Graff has a good idea. He just couldn't make it properly jell as he got bogged down with his unlikable hero. A lighter comic touch and less seriousness with issues of sex and friendship would have produced a better film.

The DVD has the complete film. Some extended sequences and cut scenes. A film of the talented cast doing one of the musical numbers live at the film's premiere and a commentary to which I did not listen.

Hem line mistake. Gay bashing. Guitar playing. Bad Beckett. Gratuitous African Americans in 'Fiddler on the Roof' outfits. Gratuitous episodes of spray puking. Woolite spiked drinks. Gratuitous spontaneous sing alongs. Gratuitous drag birthday party. Big triumphant finale. Gratuitous skinny dipping.

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