PLAYBILL PLAYLIST: Todd Graff, Writer and Director of Cult Film "Camp," Picks Influential Show Tunes

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02 Oct 2013

Todd Graff
Todd Graff

The 2003 musical film "Camp," the movie based on real-life experiences at famed theatre camp Stagedoor Manor that became a cult classic, will be screened at 54 Below Oct. 4 in celebration of its tenth anniversary. Todd Graff, the film's writer and director, picks show tunes that influenced his childhood as part of Playbill.com's Playbill Playlist.

Tony Award nominee Robin De Jesus, Sasha Allen, Steven Cutts, Brad Simmons, Joanna Chilcoat, Stephen Dimenna and Brittany Pollack will be part of the screening and reunion, which will begin at 11 PM at 54 Below.

"The movie, about a summer camp based on Stagedoor Manor for the performing arts, has become iconic among theatre aficionados. 'Camp' is filled with teen angst, references to Stephen Sondheim, and excellent performances of songs from musicals including Company; Promises Promises; The Gospel at Colonus; Follies; and Dreamgirls," according to 54 Below.

Graff will offer a pre-screening talkback with Tony Award winner Lynn Ahrens (Ragtime, Rocky), who contributed lyrics for several songs featured in the film.

In anticipation of the "Camp" reunion — featuring the film about a handful of angst-ridden teenagers who spend their summer competing for lead roles at a prestigious theatre camp — Playbill.com asked Graff to pick show tunes that influences his childhood and tell us why they made his list.

For more on the experience at Stagedoor Manor (and French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts), read the Playbill.com feature story, "A Moment in the Woods," here.

For more information, visit 54Below.com.

"Please Hello" from Pacific Overtures. This will give you some idea about what a strange kid I was. I dragged my mom to see the original production, which was mind-blowing, then made my parents listen to the cast album endlessly, while I tried, in vain, to make them realize why the internal rhyme "And with heavy cannon wish you an un(ending please hello)" was the pinnacle of human creative accomplishment up to that point in history.

"At The Ballet" from A Chorus Line. My parents picked me up from Stagedoor Manor, and we drove into Manhattan for the very first performance of A Chorus Line on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre. There was a little party onstage, afterward, that we crashed. The famous, climactic three-peat of "At the ballet... at the ballet... at the balleeeeeeet" made me actually cry from happiness.

"Book Report" from You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown. This was the first professional show I ever saw, in it's original run in Greenwich Village. I memorized and sang this song for weeks, afterward.

"Every Day A Little Death" from A Little Night Music. Okay, I had a dark side as a child. At 11 or 12 years old, I cut school, took the subway by myself from Queens to Manhattan, and saw a Wednesday matinee of the original production of Night Music. I was so outraged that Pippin didn't win the Tony for Best Musical that year, I simply HAD to see who dared to beat it. Oh. My. God. That set. The birch trees. Those performances. And the brutal poetry of this song. Indelible.

"If I Had A Million" from The Me Nobody Knows in a tie with "Carousel" from Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris. These two shows were done every summer of my childhood at Stagedoor Manor, and the experience of attending that camp utterly changed my life. It gave me hope, direction, joy, professionalism... and years later it gave me a career as a filmmaker, when I chose it as the subject of my first film as writer/director: "Camp." It is a debt I can never repay.

"Magic To Do" from Pippin. This was the first show I ever saw multiple times. I sang professionally as a kid ("Sesame Street" and "The Electric Company" theme songs, Choo Choo Charlie, etc.) and this is where my residual checks went! The opening image of the floating hands thrilled me every time. Ben Vereen was galvanizing, and it was the first show I ever saw that depicted sex. That alone kept me coming back.

"Turkey Lurkey Time" from Promises, Promises. My sister Ilene's first show out of college was understudying the lead role on Broadway in Promises — not bad, huh? I was about nine and saw her virtually every time she went on. Great as she was — and is — it was "Turkey Lurkey" that blew my mind. So much so, that years later I made it the centerpiece of my film, "Camp."

"Night Letter" from Two Gentlemen Of Verona. My mom always encouraged me to be creative. In eighth grade, she let me stay home from school if I'd been up all night writing a play — terrible as I'm sure my 8th grade plays were. When I was ten, she took me to the musical version of Two Gentlemen after it transferred to Broadway from Central Park because she thought it would be a good introduction to Shakespeare. It was. And I still listen to this outrageously funky first act finale to this day.

"Save The People" from Godspell. I saw this at the Promenade (now gone, sadly) and was swept away by the sheer theatricality and fun ricocheting off the stage. No one writes a Broadway rock anthem like Stephen Schwartz — then or now.

"Mama, Look Sharp" from 1776. The most stirring theatrical experience of my childhood was 1776. The book was so literate and genuinely funny and, at least for me, extremely educational. The score is masterful, nowhere more so than in this haunted and devastating ballad about the human cost of war.