This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Directed by Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman in their directorial debuts, Theater Camp is a funny, sweet ode to theater kids everywhere.
As the famous saying goes, “There are no small parts, only small actors.” And in Theater Camp, that couldn’t be more accurate. Whether it’s the leading role or the smoke machine operator, Directors Nick Lieberman and Molly Gordon — working from a screenplay they co-wrote with Ben Platt and Noah Galvin — show that everyone matters. Children from different walks of life come together to sing, dance, and let their inner weirdo loose, making their contribution to the craft as significant as someone with years of experience.
Theater Camp is a mockumentary that follows a summer in the life of the counselors and campers at Camp AdirondACTS in upstate New York. Troy Rubinsky (Jimmy Tatro) is the owner’s tech-bro, crypto-obsessed son who has to take over operations while his mother and camp founder, Joan (Amy Sedaris in a cute but shortlived cameo), is in a coma.
Troy’s lack of knowledge about running the camp (and the musicals themselves) leaves the staff with a sour taste in their mouths, particularly Amos (Ben Platt) and Rebecca-Diana (Gordon), who have been attending AdirondACTS since they were kids. While Troy bumbles around trying to save the camp from financial ruin, Amos and Rebecca-Diane try and assemble the annual musical on their own, which focuses on their founder’s colorful life.
“This will break you. This will fully destroy you.”
Theater Camp thrives with its ensemble, with most of the characters feeling like people straight out of a Christopher Guest picture. But the undercooked plotlines prevented a couple of them from shining. Gordon and Lieberman try to juggle the musical storyline and fundraising story but concentrate more on the former overall. Because of this, the film pushes Troy to the sidelines and he never gets fully fleshed out.
The same goes for Janet Walch (Ayo Edebiri), who’s hired off the streets to teach the children about stage combat despite having no general experience in fighting — or theater, for that matter. Edebiri has a few good scenes but is virtually forgotten about except for an appearance here and there. It’s understandable why Platt and Gordon are the main focuses of the film, but with six other counselors at AdirondACTS, it would have been nice to get more of a taste of the other flamboyant personalities.
The kids are more than all right.
While the main cast is a hoot, Theater Camp’s biggest strength lies with the kids, whose passions for Broadway are akin to religious devotion. They belt out Sweeney Todd songs, start every breakfast by singing Oklahoma’s “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” and pray to photos of Patti Lupone for good luck. Not only are they adorable as all heck, but they are also so happy and free from a world that tries to suppress their identities. Their happiness at camp is contagious, heightening the stakes, and when they’re excited about getting the role they worked so hard for, you can’t help but get excited with them.
Theater Camp may be riddled with Broadway jokes, but that doesn’t mean the non-theater viewer won’t enjoy it. It’s full of heart and will make you question why theater programs are always on the chopping block. Kids deserve to have a space where they can be themselves, and if that means singing the entirety of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables, then so be it.
Theater Camp is now playing in select theaters and expands on July 21. Watch the trailer here.
THEATER CAMP - 7/10