Hello Muddah, hello Fadduh, here's Judge Brett Cullum at Stagedoor Manor, which couldn't get any oddah.
Nicole Doring: Everyone here is a drama…you know…loser. Who…you know…while everyone else walks around listening to Nelly, they're listening to West Side Story or Cats. But everyone's like that here, and it's so much easier to get along with people rather than in school.
Stagedoor is a compelling documentary looking at Stagedoor Manor, a drama and musical camp in the Catskills where hundreds of school kids come every summer to put on a show. Actually they put on dozens of shows, a professional cabaret, and a general talent show. It's a place where singing Sondheim is more important than throwing a football and tap dancing outweighs track and field. The kids range from the super talented who have already been on Broadway to the delusional who are simply there because they love theatre even though they have no hope of ever being cast professionally. They all have the dream, though, and they all want to make it big. And why not? Famous alums include Natalie Portman (Garden State) and Zach Braff (um…Garden State). At the end of the program, they perform for parents as well as bona fide casting agents and talent scouts. It's a big deal and everyone takes it seriously. Maybe they take it all a little too seriously, because many of these kids (and some of the counselors) become monsters.
Somehow more painful than watching the kids sweat it off in dance class is watching the emotional turmoil to fit in and the psychological torture of being ranked and judged. Acting is competitive, and Stagedoor Manor encourages cliques, since they only allow the very best to participate in the elite cabaret program. These chosen few become the "popular" kids. It's funny that all of these outcasts who spend the school year in agony as other kids pick on them immediately find a way to replicate a similar caste system. As you'd expect, many of the kids are gay, and Stagedoor Manor is a place where that's okay and, in fact, the norm. It's an interesting place where things are completely different but equally as vicious. It all becomes a strange experiment that makes one recall a Lord of the Flies scenario in which all the kids have a dance-off on the beach before tearing each other to shreds. Director Alexander Shiva seems to want to showcase the good, the bad, and the ugly of the camp.
Docurama's DVD presentation for Stagedoor is straight-ahead with no frills. The full-screen transfer is comprised of handheld documentary footage, so quality varies. Overall it looks as good as it can. Sound is delivered in a clear simple stereo mix which is dialogue and Broadway melody heavy. The feature has no extras and no commentary. It would be interesting to see how the kids felt about the movie once it came out or hear what the camp counselors think of how they were portrayed, but it's a bare-bones release.
Stagedoor is funny, sad, frightening, and extremely entertaining. The kids are bright, talented, and more than a little deluded. Yet in the end they achieve what they set out to do, and the shows are pretty damn good. It's just such a shame that most of the drama takes place behind the scenes and the kids have to find a way to create a pecking order amongst them. If you've seen the movie Camp, this is the real inspiration behind that fictional story. The funny thing is that Stagedoor is stranger than the fictional version. Imagine an entire summer camp of little Liza Minellis duking it out. If that is something you can't do or a concept that frightens you, this one may not be for you. If that makes you squeal and exclaim "Swell!" then pop the corn and get ready for the drama queens.
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