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30 Sep 2003

the fame game

Fridae's resident expert in showtunes, Alvin Tan, reviews Camp, a movie featuring a group of unknowns with show-stopping talents (but junior high acting skills) and explains why it's a must-see for gay men with Broadway aspirations.

Middle pic: Daniel Letterle as Vlad and Daniel Letterle and Joanna Chilcoat (bottom pic)
I'm gonna live for ever
I'm gonna learn how to fly
I feel it coming together
People will see me and cry
I'm gonna make it to heaven
Light up the sky like a flame
I'm gonna live forever
Baby remember my name."
- Irene Cara, Fame

For gay men who worship at the feet of Stephen Sondheim, Camp is the movie for you.

Set in Camp Ovation, a summer retreat for hormonal teens with a penchant of breaking into Broadway-type song-and-dance numbers, Camp reminds one of a Fame rerun - only relocated to an Outward Bound School.

Featuring an ensemble cast of unknowns, the main plot of Camp centers around Vlad (Daniel Letterle), "an honest-to-God straight boy" who, in a performance camp where every male is presumably gay, is regarded with the hunger and interest usually reserved for starving prisoners presented with a mouth-watering buffet spread.

Desperately trying to get into Vlad's heterosexual pants are Ellen (Joanna Chilcoat), the plain Jane with the voice but not the looks; her Royal Highness and camp vixen Jill (Alana Allen); and of course, Vlad's roommate Michael (Robin De Jesus), an aspiring drag queen who was beaten up for turning up at his prom in an outfit with helm lines and later tries to win Vlad's friendship by disastrously trying to prove his "heterosexual" affiliations with best fag hag Dee (Sasha Allen).

Then there are the requisite misfits including Jill's personal doormat Fritzi (Anna Kendrick) who eventually does an Eve Harrington a la All About Eve and delivers a scene-stealing rendition of "The Ladies Who Lunch"; spokesgirl for obese teens, Jenna (Tiffany Taylor) who has her mouth wired shut (at a performance camp?) by her parents to keep her from overeating; and Don Dixon as a has-been Broadway songwriter and current alcoholic who has been assigned teaching duties at Camp Ovation.
As the summer progresses, musical theater productions are rehearsed and staged while battles are fought and won along the predictable lines of "chronically depressed gay boy learns to love himself", "unbearable bitch gets her just desserts" and "fat girl finally finds self-affirmation through song" etc. All events naturally dovetail into a rousing grand musical finale known as the Benefit which features a heart-rending performance of "Here's Who I Am" (written by Fame composer Michael Gore) belted out by Jenna.

Middle pic: Daniel Letterle as Vlad and Daniel Letterle and Joanna Chilcoat (bottom pic)
Despite the expectedly amateurish acting, the clumsy direction from first-time director Todd Graff and the tired gay clichs (enough of show-tune jokes already!), Camp is remarkable for its energetic performance pieces and its undeniably talented cast. Sounding better than any contestant ever to emerge from American Idol, the cast of Camp truly shines in the musical numbers which are performed with polished panache and the show-must-go-on fervor.

In fact, by delving straight into the heart of spotlight hungry teens who truly live to perform, Camp manages to overcome its shoe-string production values and hopeless plot contrivances to emerge as a celebration of raw talent and conviction, and a validation of youthful hope and optimism.

A must-see for rabid musical theater queens and anyone who has ever harbored secret aspirations of being the Next Big Thing.

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