DVD Reviews -- Movies About High School Theater
Tuesday, September 22, 2009; 12:00 AM
With TV shows like "Glee" developing followers and the remake of "Fame" arriving in theaters Friday, this may be the best time in recent cultural history to be a performing arts nerd. All those Sondheim-obsessed stage kids don't even need to call themselves geeks anymore; now they are simply "Gleeks," the *slightly* hipper name that fans of the aforementioned Fox comedy have adopted for themselves.
While these two recent projects -- not to mention the unstoppable force that is "American Idol" -- have placed a new focus on young people who can't wait to put on a show, they are hardly the first to do so. In an effort to provide even more viewing options for teens who just want to be in the spotlight (and the people who love them), I offer this quick list of films -- all available on DVD -- that celebrate the magic of being young and in love with soaring musical numbers and knock-out choreography.
"Camp": This indie celebrated the power of Gleekhood years before the Fox series was even a gleam in creator Ryan Murphy's eye. A spirited little movie about the personal lives and Broadway dreams of several teens -- including Anna Kendrick, soon-to-be-seen in "Up in the Air" and "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" -- at a summer theater camp, the film may get a little over-dramatic at times, but hey, it's about drama club. Accept the emotion, and while you're at it, enjoy the musical numbers. ($14.98 on DVD)
"The Mickey Rooney & Judy Garland Collection": The original "let's put on a show" kids, Rooney and Garland appeared in multiple movies together, including the four included in this Warner Bros. DVD collection ($59.92): "Babes in Arms," "Strike Up the Band," "Girl Crazy" and "Babes on Broadway." Contemporary viewers may find some of the plotlines a little cheesy, but they'll also recognize how significantly Rooney and Garland paved the lavish-musical-finale way for singing-and-dancing generations to come.
"Fame: Complete Seasons 1 & 2": In a move undoubtedly designed to promote the "Fame" theatrical release, the first two seasons of this Emmy-nominated series re-emerged last Tuesday with a fresh DVD release ($39.98). All 38 episodes, each one focused on the daily struggles of trying to stand out amidst a sea of performing-arts-student stars, are included here. And if you watch it and still feel like you haven't seen the best of "Fame" yet, the original 1980 movie also was reissued on DVD ($20.98) last Tuesday.
"High School Musical": Look, we can't talk about high school kids and musicals without mentioning THE "High School Musical," aka the teeny Disney Channel movie that launched the phenomenon that is Zac Efron. I'm not going to suggest that "Get'cha Head in the Game" is a song-and-dance number on par with, say, "Singin' in the Rain." But this is a movie that's wholesome enough for elementary-school-aged song-and-dance lovers to enjoy, and one whose "Remix Edition" comes with fun DVD ($29.99) and Blu-ray ($34.99) extras, including a feature that breaks down some of that Kenny Ortega-crafted choreography.
"Hamlet 2": Steve Coogan plays a deluded high school drama teacher determined to save his theater department from budget cuts in this very funny comedy that was largely overlooked when it was released in theaters last year. Coogan takes desperation to weird, hilarious places as he moves foward with his master fundraising plan, which involves staging his bizarre musical sequel to "Hamlet" (hence the movie's title), complete with time travel, ridiculously elaborate sets and a surprisingly catchy number called "Rock Me, Sexy Jesus." (DVD: $19.98)
"Waiting for Guffman": Yes, I know. I'm cheating more than a little bit with this one since none of the aspiring community theater actors in Christopher Guest's delicious send-up of stage life are technically in high school. But their behavior puts most of them, particularly Guest's colossally clueless Corky St. Clair, firmly in the category of arrested adolescent. Plus, anyone with any love for the theater can't live one more day without seeing how "Red, White and Blaine" -- the cinematic godfather to the trainwreck production in "Hamlet 2" -- comes together in rehearsal. Because as we all know, nothing screams Broadway potential like a musical number about UFOs. (DVD: $19.98)