Movie Review TagEarly on in Theater Camp, a lovingly observed comedy about a beleaguered performing arts summer camp, the power goes out during auditions, but not even total darkness can deter 15-year-old Christopher (Luke Islam) from nailing the final note of “Defying Gravity.” In a nearby kitchen, the camp cook soldiers on too, adding, by flashlight, a dollop of whiskey to the chili pot before taking a swig for herself. At Camp AdriondACTS, everyone’s on edge since it’s becoming clear that the camp isn’t likely to survive the illness that has beset founder Joan Rubinsky (Amy Sedaris), a malady triggered by an over-produced middle-school production of Bye Bye Birdie.

As the young Birdie lead, Sebastian (Alexander Bello), relates the story of Joan’s collapse to his riveted campmates, co-directors/co-writers Nick Lieberman and Molly Gordon (The Bear)–who also stars– cut away just as Sebastian states, “I obviously stayed in character.” Summer theater camp, no surprise, is filled with kids and adults who view staying in character as a core life philosophy, particularly the pathologically co-dependent Rebecca-Diane (Gordon) and Amos (co-writer Ben Platt), who spent their childhoods under Joan’s tutelage and now return each summer to teach and to write the summer musical. This year’s show will be an epic about Joan herself. Bringing this opus to life, Rebecca-Diane promises her adolescent cast, “will break you.”

Footage of Rebecca-Diane and Amos performing at AdriondACTS as kids is actually footage of Gordon and Platt in their days at a California performing arts studio for children. The filmmakers have all known each other since childhood. Platt and Noah Gavin, who plays Glenn, the camp’s secretly talented stage manager, also both starred in Dear Evan Hansen.

This quartet of friends has made a movie that might be classified as a “mockumentary,” but they clearly have too much love for the story’s setting to mock it, or satirize its subjects too sharply, although Platt isn’t afraid to show that Amos has zero life beyond the borders of summer camp.

Arriving to save theater camp from foreclosure, Joan’s son Troy (Jimmy Tatro), a straight bro vlogger who fancies himself a financial wizard, is living his own version of stunted adolescence, a fact the camp kids spot right off. They ignore him, completely, much to Troy’s chagrin. Glenn tries to guide him, but Troy keeps stumbling, particularly in his attempt to woo and outwit a hedge fund financier (Patti Harrison) with a dastardly plan to take over the camp, a plotline that slows the film down.

In a movie with few scenes that last more than a couple minutes, there are funny bits about the thriving black market in Throat Care tea and the important distinction between the close-knit Rent kids and the finger-snapping “Fosse” gang. When straight boy Devon (Donovan Colan) is caught playing football with boys from another camp, his queer campmates are horrified. Football! And the outrage over a child actor using a mentholated “tear stick” is likely to be the film’s lasting comic moment.

Rebecca-Diane and Amos’ trouble plagued musical, Joan, Still, comes together for opening night, in a protracted sequence that gives Theater Camp a much-needed burst of exuberance. The songs are bad but also kinda great, and there’s Studio 54 number with a white feather boa as a line of cocaine that is a testament to the inventiveness of low-budget productions. We’ve all seen shows like Joan, Still. The luckier among us have performed in them. On such a night, even tearing tickets means you’re working in the theater. There is no greater joy.










































































































































































Editor’s note: The disclaimer below refers to advertising posts and does not apply to this or any other editorial stories. LA Weekly editorial does not and will not sell content.

Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting LA Weekly and our advertisers.