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Review: 'Theater Geek' by Mickey Rapkin a peek inside boot camp for the stars

The temptation is to fill this entire space with lists of the famous alumni (or unknown alumni with famous parents) from Stagedoor Manor, the theater summer camp in the Catskills.

In 1976, Robert Downey Jr. was Mr. Dussel in The Diary of Anne Frank. The next year, campers watched Jennifer Jason Leigh limping through the cafeteria in preparation for her Laura in The Glass Menagerie. Natalie Portman was Sally Bowles in a 1995 Cabaret, and, in 2000, a teen named Lea Michele had to leave camp early to do a workshop of a little show called Spring Awakening. (Michele, now an Emmy-nominated star of Glee, never was picked for a lead role.)

You see? As Second City has been to post-adolescent comedy, Stagedoor Manor has been a seedling ground for the future thespians of America.

But as Mickey Rapkin breezily recounts in Theater Geek, the summer camp in the Catskills has also been an oasis, a hoot and an escape — "Oz, Neverland, Hogwarts" for any arts-loving youngster who, "for whatever reason, feels other than." Rapkin, a senior editor at GQ and self-described theater geek, lined the walls of his childhood bedroom with Playbills. Though he had friends, there were "almost none I could talk to about crying at Les Miserables."

In other words, he is an ideal guide through the mystique, missteps and mischief at a theater boot camp. Rapkin spent three weeks at the summer stock for kids, created in 1975 in the foreclosed Karmel Hotel in Loch Sheldrake, N.Y. In that brief time, campers ages 10 to 18 put on 13 musicals — including a six-show Sondheim festival. He follows three seniors in their final roles before being cast out into the vagaries of college and career.

Rapkin worries about the future, as American Idol strengthens "its death grip on pop culture, teaching kids that fame and fortune were not just imminent, but somehow owed to them." Despite the concern, the spirit of the book lies more in alum Mandy Moore saying, wistfully, "I wish they had Stagedoor for adults." Hey, who doesn't?

The temptation is to fill this entire space with lists of the famous alumni (or unknown alumni with famous parents) from Stagedoor Manor, the theater summer camp in the Catskills.

In 1976, Robert Downey Jr. was Mr. Dussel in The Diary of Anne Frank. The next year, campers watched Jennifer Jason Leigh limping through the cafeteria in preparation for her Laura in The Glass Menagerie. Natalie Portman was Sally Bowles in a 1995 Cabaret, and, in 2000, a teen named Lea Michele had to leave camp early to do a workshop of a little show called Spring Awakening. (Michele, now an Emmy-nominated star of Glee, never was picked for a lead role.)

You see? As Second City has been to post-adolescent comedy, Stagedoor Manor has been a seedling ground for the future thespians of America.

But as Mickey Rapkin breezily recounts in Theater Geek, the summer camp in the Catskills has also been an oasis, a hoot and an escape — "Oz, Neverland, Hogwarts" for any arts-loving youngster who, "for whatever reason, feels other than." Rapkin, a senior editor at GQ and self-described theater geek, lined the walls of his childhood bedroom with Playbills. Though he had friends, there were "almost none I could talk to about crying at Les Miserables."

In other words, he is an ideal guide through the mystique, missteps and mischief at a theater boot camp. Rapkin spent three weeks at the summer stock for kids, created in 1975 in the foreclosed Karmel Hotel in Loch Sheldrake, N.Y. In that brief time, campers ages 10 to 18 put on 13 musicals — including a six-show Sondheim festival. He follows three seniors in their final roles before being cast out into the vagaries of college and career.

Rapkin worries about the future, as American Idol strengthens "its death grip on pop culture, teaching kids that fame and fortune were not just imminent, but somehow owed to them." Despite the concern, the spirit of the book lies more in alum Mandy Moore saying, wistfully, "I wish they had Stagedoor for adults." Hey, who doesn't?

Theater Geek

The Real Life Drama of a Summer at Stagedoor Manor, the Famous Performing Arts Camp, by Mickey Rapkin

Free Press, 220 pages, $25

Theater Geek

The Real Life Drama of a Summer at Stagedoor Manor, the Famous Performing Arts Camp, by Mickey Rapkin

Free Press, 220 pages, $25

Review: 'Theater Geek' by Mickey Rapkin a peek inside boot camp for the stars 09/15/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 12:19pm]

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