Toronto
2 min

Into the woods

You're in for a high-kicking surprise

Camp. Robin De Jesus certainly is. Credit: Xtra files

Self-respecting musical theatre queens should high kick their way to the Carlton to catch the cleverly titled Camp. Any film that portrays Broadway composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim as an object of hysterical Elvis-like worship (and features him in a cameo) is definitely worth slapping on the pancake and sequins for.



Camp Ovation is a performing arts camp for all those melodic misfits. It’s a hotbed of artistic teen angst and barely suppressed hormones, where sightings of straight boys are extremely rare. Until this summer.



His name is Vlad (Daniel Letterle), and before the summer is over he’ll have bedded some of the girls, and flirted with enough of the boys to get tongues wagging and hearts fluttering all over camp.



And what a mix of stereotypes the boys and girls are. There’s the sweetheart with an amazing voice, Ellen (Joanna Chilcoat), the scheming ingénue (Alana Allen) and her Eve Harrington-esque nemesis (Anna Kendrick, who steps in to sing a killer version of “The Ladies Who Lunch;” Elaine Stritch would be proud). Then there’s Michael (Robin De Jesus, single handedly putting the “camp” in Camp), a junior Latino beaten for wearing a dress to the prom, deserted by his parents and nursing a huge crush on Vlad. Saddled with a full plate of gay teen “issues” (fortunately he’s been cut a break and isn’t HIV-positive), De Jesus rises above the stereotypes, making Michael an achingly real youth, with a great line in sassy patter. When Vlad asks if he’s ever tried heterosexuality, Michael replies, “What, sleep with a straight guy?”



They’re presided over by a typically odd assortment of adults including, of course, the bitter, alcoholic, one-hit wonder musical writer who thinks these kids are freaks. Naturally he’ll be won over by their charm, their guile and their ability to create a professional production number (featuring one of his songs, natch) in no time at all.



But in Camp, story takes a back seat to production numbers. These Broadway babies sing their hearts out and highlights include songs from Follies, Dreamgirls and Promises, Promises. It’s when the singing stops and the stock emotional drama resumes that Camp loses the plot. Although director/writer Todd Graff has obvious affection for his characters and their milieu (he attended a similar camp as a child), and he stages the musical numbers with inventive flair, the backstage banter is non-stop cliché, redeemed only by the nimble performances of the talented young cast.



Despite its flaws, Camp remains a sweetly enjoyable romp with lots of in-jokes for the theatre fan. The kids belt out a rousing rendition of “Losing My Mind,” tackle tough and completely age-inappropriate plays and the athletic counsellor (in a nice piece of theatre-geek revenge) desperately tries to convince someone, anyone, to play a sport. So treat your inner diva to the entertaining theatrics of Camp, currently playing at the Carlton (20 Carlton St); call (416) 598-9622.