In the Newsweek magazine of last July 24th, the Business section featured an 8-page spread declaring the Disney Channel movie, High School Musical, a “genuine pop-culture phenomenon.” If there was any doubt about that, it was quickly dispelled by the enthusiastic sellout crowd that packed Nancy Bock Center for the Performing Arts on last Thursday’s opening night of the Class Act / Woodlands High School collaboration on the new and experimental Disney stage version of that same show. That enthusiasm crossed the footlights in the bright young faces of the energetic and talented 80-member cast.
Jointly directed by Keith Brumfield (Class Act) and Carlen Gilseth (TWHS), the show opens at East High School (Set design- Jonathan Shelledy, Lighting- Blake Minor) with a pep rally that couldn’t be more realistic as it surrounds the audience with its frenzy. (Cheerleading direction -Beth Boudreaux). Suddenly we move to a New Year’s Eve party where the school basketball star, Troy (Tyler Lewis), meets Gabriella (Colleen Dawes), the very sweet and very brilliant new girl at school. Shyly, they hesitantly try a karaoke duet of the sweet, “Start of Something New,” as the full company once more joins in with fine ensemble singing and dancing. While Mr. Lewis’ voice is pleasant enough, Miss Dawes showed considerable vocal skill. Brief comic bits from the school radio announcer (Callen Myers) punctuate many of the scenes that follow. Aiming for a state championship, Troy and his fellow “Jocks” offer some fancy footwork as they show their skill on the basketball court while singing the rhythmic, “Get’cha Head in the Game.” (The scenic artistry of Joan Rothhammer gave the illusion of a very 3-dimensional court).
Adding to the fun is the conniving brother/sister team of Ryan (James Canfield), and Sharpay (Maddie Landers). Fancying themselves as the king and queen of the Drama Club, Ryan is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and Sharpay has a too-high opinion of herself, while being certain that she should win the heart of basketball hero, Troy. With her glamorous audition outfits (just some of designer, Rhonda Silver’s eye-popping costumes for this cast), the attractive Miss Landers plays it to the hilt while singing and dancing quite well. She creates a Sharpay that we love to hate as she scorns people who, “don’t know the difference between a Tony Award and Tony Soprano,” all the while plotting to keep Gabriella and Troy from winning either each other’s affection, or starring roles in the school play. (Can you guess the outcome?) The feisty drama teacher, Ms. Darbus (Sidney Rascoe) adds to the laughs, though many of her lines were spoken so rapidly they could not be heard. The high-strung Coach Bolton (Connor McCollum), has some humorous clashes with her. There was nice work in supporting roles from Aaron Boudreaux, Caitlin Ferraro, and Emily Weir, while Musical Director, Rae Moses did a fine job leading the orchestra.
With an essentially lightweight script, the strength of this show is in the upbeat music and its wide appeal to a young generation that is often subjected to tawdry lyrics, supplemented by loud noise. Here, we have a gentler spirit and a return to romance that encourage me to think there is hope on the musical horizon. Songs like “What I’ve Been Looking For,” “I Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” “Counting on You,” “When There Was Me and You,” and “Start of Something New,” all have a positive energy that has sent DVD and CD sales of the Disney music through the roof. And for added pizzazz, we have a “Stick to the Status Quo” number that was loaded with energized music and choreography with everything from Go-Go dancing (Abbey Moss) to some of the best “break dancing” I have seen since my teaching days in Brooklyn. More such whirling, weaving and acrobatic dancing highlight the dramatic “Breaking Free,” at the close of Act Two. (Choreography-Fayla Curry).
In the minus column there is still one over-riding problem with the Nancy Bock arena. The popular “body mike” microphones used are simply not projecting the voices of these young performers adequately. To quote a woman I overheard in the audience, “It all looks so darling! It’s too good not to hear!” For the many youngsters in the audience who knew the dialogue and songs by heart, that was not an issue. But there is a larger audience that must be considered. Coupled with the fact that some of the performers raced through their lines, this created a substantial problem. I would suggest that some adult volunteers totally unfamiliar with the material preview future productions in order to ascertain if everything can be comfortably heard. As the company’s colorful and rousing finale declared, “We’re All in This Together.”
“High School Musical” will be performed today at 2:30 in Nancy Bock Auditorium at 3800 S.Panther Creek. For ticket information: www.ClassActProductions.org.
(The Courier 10.8.06)