Noah Galvin looks great in a wig, pearls, and heels. He sounds beautiful as a woman, too, nailing ballads sung in falsetto with the same panache with which he tap-dances. Perhaps the actor was born to cross-dress as a frazzled theater camp director named Joan—played by Amy Sedaris, before her character falls into a coma—in an original musical about Joan’s life, in which he is the only adult in a cast of middle-schoolers and tweens.
The circumstances behind this bizarre “Rose’s Turn” moment for Galvin—a stage and screen actor known for films like Booksmart, TV series like The Good Doctor, and Broadway musicals like Dear Evan Hansen—sound ludicrous on paper.
In the film, he plays Glenn, a shy, third-generation handyman at a theater camp called AdirondACTS (get it?), who secretly yearns to perform himself. When the young girl who was meant to star in Joan Still leaves camp before opening night, Glenn, who has seen all of the rehearsals, steps up.
Everything from the sight of Galvin in Amy Sedaris cosplay to the reality of what’s going on itself—a theater camp decided to write, stage, and perform an original musical about a middle-aged woman in a coma—is utterly ridiculous. Yet when Glenn takes center stage in Joan’s dress, pitches his voice up, and belts to the rafter in the show’s 11 o’clock number, it’s so genuine and profound that the film soars.
As was the case for Glenn, it seems that Joan was the role that Galvin was born to play.
“Stupid and weird, baby. Stupid and weird,” Galvin tells The Daily Beast’s Obsessed about what it was like to perform Joan Still, in an interview that was conducted before the SAG-AFTRA strike. Galvin wrote Theater Camp with his fiancé Ben Platt and friend Molly Gordon, both of whom also star in the film, as well as Nick Lieberman, who co-directed it with Gordon. (The quartet have all known each other for decades; Platt and Gordon attended their own theater camp together as kids.)
In the brisk 90-day shoot, Joan Still was the last sequence to be filmed, shot over the final three days. “I was sort of living a parallel journey emotionally to my character, in that when the day came for me to show up and do the scenes, there was so much pressure and I had so much fear,” Galvin says. He also hadn’t tap-danced in 15 years before doing so in the film. “The joy you see on my face at the end of that number is completely authentic. Because I felt like I had just ripped off the biggest Band-Aid I’ve ever had on in my life.”
In its first weekend in theaters at the end of July, Theater Camp earned the best limited release opening at the box office for studio Searchlight Pictures since Jojo Rabbit in 2019. In its first weekend in wide release this last weekend, it doubled its gross. But first came the film’s rapturous premiere in January at the Sundance Film Festival.
The movie is about the lifelong musical-theater enthusiast camp counselors who live and breathe all things Sondheim, Miranda, and LuPone, and thus treat their jobs—putting on a production of Cats with a bunch of kids—with a comic seriousness. Then again, so too do the campers themselves, who suffer stress dreams about auditions and trade Throat Coat for their voices as if they’re ensconced in an illicit drug ring.
The audience at the cavernous Eccles Theater in Park City, Utah, where the Sundance premiere took place, overflowed with an audience of Broadway obsessives who could very much relate. The auditorium, in essence, had been transformed into a church for theater geeks, called to worship in this mainstream moment. As the credits rolled and the thunderous ovation began, you might have expected the applause to morph into the timed clapping of their hallowed hymn: “Seasons of Love.”
“I have been working in theater in New York from the age of 10,” Galvin says. “It can feel like a little bubble that only the people that I know participate in. But my first taste of it being a larger thing was when I took over for Ben in Dear Evan Hansen. That musical had just touched so many people and made so many people feel represented, that it made the theater community feel larger to me. And it made me realize that if something is good enough, it will reach everybody. That’s the mantra that we had in writing this movie.”
The film that Theater Camp has been most often compared to is Guest’s Best in Show. (Obviously, references to Glee and Wet Hot American Summer also abound.) Like that 2000 comedy, Theater Camp is shot like a documentary and populated with the kinds of quirky characters that blossom in unusual, insular communities. The world of dog shows, perhaps. Or one in which the score to Ragtime has the same healing powers as medicine or therapy.
While I may be among those who delighted in Theater Camp because it felt like a film that was made explicitly for me—proud high-school Will Parker in Oklahoma! here—a movie like this wouldn’t work, let alone be as popular as it’s already become, if it didn’t touch a broader audience.
“Specificity begets universality,” Galvin says. “Something like Best in Show, for instance, that movie means so much to so many people. And I would bet you that like 2 percent of those people are in the dog show world.” Even that number may be generous.
“I think we made something specific, but I’m hoping that specificity really opens the door for people from all walks of life,” he adds. “Not just those who have suffered under the hand of a voice teacher.”
Getting Theater Camp to this point, where it’s finally in wide release and people are responding to it, was a long road. The film was born out of a short that the foursome made during the pandemic. A proper New York City premiere happened just under the gun, before strike guidelines advised actors to no longer do press for their projects. In the middle of all that, Galvin and Platt got engaged, and conducted their (brief) press tour for a film they wrote, starred in, and of which they are very proud as a same-sex couple—something that’s certainly unique in Hollywood. (When asked about fans’ fascination with two actors who played Evan Hansen dating and then getting engaged, Galvin’s silent reaction told a journey of 10,000 emotions via a series of eye expressions.)
In 2016, Galvin was an out gay actor starring as an out gay teen in a network sitcom, ABC’s The Real O’Neals—certainly the only queer performer at the time who could claim such a position. Of course, that position came with intense scrutiny from both within and outside of the LGBT community, specifically after an exceptionally candid interview that Galvin gave Vulture about representation and being gay in Hollywood caused a stir online.
The experience of being an out gay actor in Hollywood is still a complicated one. This time, though, he’s doing it with his fiancé, in a partnership that’s being celebrated.
”Even if the movie was really bad, which it’s not, and even if the movie was received poorly, which it’s not, I still would have had fun promoting it throughout the whole process because I get to do it with Ben,” he says. “I’m a person who sometimes needs a little bit of a push from the people around me in order to claim my spotlight. Ben really helps me do just that.”