The filmmakers’ affection for the material, this setting, and each other is evident; they’re all close friends who’ve grown up and worked together for years. That footage at the beginning of the movie of cute kids performing on stage? That’s Gordon and Platt, long before TV’s “The Bear” and the musical “Dear Evan Hansen” would make them famous, respectively. Galvin also starred in “Dear Evan Hansen” on Broadway and is engaged to Platt. Gordon and Galvin both had key supporting roles in Olivia Wilde’s “Booksmart.” Lieberman, the only one of the four who does not also appear on screen, has been friends with Platt since high school and directed several of his music videos. It’s clear how much they love this world of hammy, misfit kids who thrive within their tribe in this bucolic location, hours outside New York because they lived it themselves. But the execution doesn’t always match the power of their emotions.
“Theater Camp” begins promisingly with Platt and Gordon co-starring as Amos and Rebecca-Diane, former campers with dreams of stardom who now return annually as counselors. AdirondACTS (a funny idea in itself) is a ramshackle cluster of cabins that’s seen better days but still bursts with youthful glee each summer. This year, though, acting coach Amos and music teacher Rebecca-Diane must run the whole operation, as founder Joan (Amy Sedaris in a frustratingly brief appearance) has suffered a “Bye Bye Birdie”-related seizure and is in a coma. Joan’s wannabe finance bro son, Troy (Jimmy Tatro), shows up and tries to impose his will, but the precocious theater kids immediately see through his inauthenticity and reject him.
The show must go on, though, which is extremely amusing for a while but grows inconsistently so. Some of the kids are insanely talented—particularly Bailee Bonick, Luke Islam, and Alexander Bello—and it would have been nice to get to know them a bit beyond watching them belt out a show tune or emote with a depth beyond their years. They’re actually way more interesting than the adult characters, except for Galvin’s Glenn, the beleaguered technical whiz with a secret. A bit involving young “Minari” star Alan Kim as a would-be agent who wears suits and makes phone calls all day is emblematic of both the humor and shortcomings of “Theater Camp.” It’s intriguingly specific but also woefully underdeveloped. This is also true of the presence of Ayo Edebiri, who’s so excellent alongside Gordon on “The Bear”: Her character is here under dubious circumstances that the movie doesn’t explore nearly enough.