"There's no 's' at the end of the word 'toward' in 'What I Did for Love!" shrieks an instructor to his kids, concerned over getting the lyrics of the musical A Chorus Line right. His charges nod, and, although it takes a while, finally do get it right, with the selfsame brow-knitted seriousness which young students once applied to the study of Beowulf. But we're in Musical Comedyland here, kids, specifically the summer-theatre camp, Stagedoor Manor, a haven in the Catskill Mountains for budding Liza Minnellis.
Director Alexandra Shiva trains her camera on five aspiring stars as they are put through their triple-threat paces by a squad of very no-nonsense instructors. They're mostly misfits in the outside world; one, 14-year-old Taylor Rabow, suffers from ADD and ADHD, and his motor-mouthed antics could indeed, in the immortal words of Steven Sondheim, "Drive a Person Crazy." But musical theatre provides a focus for his rabid energy and, given the meaty assignment of Little Patrick in Mame, he emerges as a natural, affecting talent.
The real star of the piece, however, is 15-year-old Robert Wright, already a Broadway veteran of The Lion King, whose formidable nascent talents have lifted him up from a Newark, New Jersey ghetto rife with street gangs and violence. The other three featured kids, as well as most of the entire camp population, do not evince any discernible gifts, which definitely weakens the film. Age and experience questions aside, you want to see more really breakthrough performances, especially at the cabaret at a local tourist hotel, staged by the camp's crème de la crème. Despite this special clique's complacent knowledge of their elite status, what we see are pretty much amateur histrionics, performed in the most hilariously recondite setting, before an audience whose average age looks to be 80.
If there's any villain in the piece, it is that aforementioned cabaret clique, who run afoul of the administration with some murky doings on a bus trip back from the hotel. They are severely reprimanded for actions which bespeak the egomaniacal selfishness that makes them anything but proper role models for the younger kids, but, unfortunately, such stuff will be common coin in the dog-eat-dog showbiz world they are about to enter. If anything, the scary object lesson shown here about the entitlement so-called self-dubbed "stars" display is every bit as eye-opening and important to these young wannabes as any musical scales or tap routines. And to put a finer point on it, the camp even has its resident Simon Cowell: Doug Quinn, the Acting Master Class instructor, who puts his charges through some psychological/humiliation games which may have certain parents questioning the advisability of subjecting their offspring to this experience, all in the name of a future Tony Award.