Getting a DVD re-release today in a bid to hitch a ride on the High School Musical bandwagon is the offbeat 2003 musical Camp. The DVD packaging plays up the similarities (“If you like High School Musical, you’ll love this,” runs one quote), but writer-director Todd Graff’s made-on-a-shoestring indie movie is a far quirkier and much less glossy affair than the Disney big- and small-screen phenomenon.
The movie takes place at Camp Ovation, a theatrical summer camp for aspiring teenage thespians, where stage-struck kids who are habitually looked upon as freaks feel totally at home and the sports counsellor is redundant.
With a new show to put on every two weeks, the atmosphere in the camp is intense, and there’s plenty of scope for bitchiness and backbiting among the movie’s roll call of characters, from the Latino drag queen and the bitchy diva to the mousey wallflower and the overweight girl with a powerhouse voice.
As the pun in the title warns, Camp won’t be to all tastes. If you’d rather have poison ivy rash than listen to the songs of Stephen Sondheim, you’d probably better give this a miss: the folk at Camp Ovation revere him as a god. Yet if you’ve a fondness for Broadway show tunes, you’ll find much to enjoy here.
Admittedly, Graff’s direction is rather flat and the acting is decidedly patchy, but the kids’ energy and exuberance in the musical numbers – including a caustic rendition of Sondheim’s The Ladies Who Lunch, a stirring cover of Victoria Williams’ Century Plant, and a barnstorming version of Todd Rundgren’s The Want of a Nail – more than compensates for the film’s flaws. (Released 17th March)