High School Musical

Dates and Venue 6 -13 May 2008 @ 7.30pm weekdays, 6:30pm Sunday, matinees 2pm Saturday & 1pm Sunday | Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts

Book David Simpatico Music Arrangements Bryan Louiselle Choreography Lisa Stevens Music direction Robert Sprayberry Scenic Design Kenneth Foy Costumes Wade Laboissoniere

Reviewer John Jane

Thirty-minutes before curtain-time, I knew that I had to be in the right place for the tour production of High School Musical. It wasn’t just the 4-foot high gold letters that spelt out the show’s name on a red schim, but even more evident, were the hordes of excited pre-teens (mostly girls) snapping up show souvenirs.

Since its US premiere in January 2006, High School Musical, Disney Channel’s made-for-television movie has become something of an entertaiment juggernaut, winning a pair of Emmy Awards in the process. The live theatre version’s success has been notable, too, considering that it’s loaded with pretty average, written-by-committee tunes.

The story is simple, yet irresistibly charming; Arielle Jacobs and John Jeffrey Martin are pleasantly perky as Gabriella Montez and Troy Bolton who are cosmically coupled together in a karaoke contest and find that they enjoy doing more than just making music together. Through some manifestation of divine direction, Gabriella is transferred to East High, the same school that Troy is attending. At this point, any similarity with Grease is purely coincidental.

Troy is captain of the school’s basketball team and Gabriella is soon recruited into the science squad, but they manage to find common ground in auditioning for the high-school theatre project, Juliet and Romeo – yes, that’s right! – Juliet and Romeo. Well, it is a neo-feminist romance.

Bratty drama princess, Sharpay Evans and her not-so-evil twin brother Ryan (both of whom appear to have “the hots” for Troy) have already laid claim to the leading roles and don’t welcome the interlopers. Predictably, Gabriella and Troy overcome pressure from respective peer groups and their own self-doubt and even gain Sharpay’s grudging remorse.

New-comer Heléne York is deliciously over-the-top as the posturing Sharpay. With the show’s lack of real conflict, the part yells out for outragous camp. Also excellent are Olivia Oguma, who gives it her all as Kelsi Neilson and Shaullanda Lacombe makes the most of her role as head “Brainiac” Taylor McKessie.

Ellen Harvey as drama teacher Ms. Darbus and Ron Bohmer as the hard-nosed, basketball coach offer solid support in the “adult” roles, although Harvey is occasionally guilty of being too histrionic.

On the show’s more tranquil tunes, like “I can’t take my eyes off you” the sound quality was acceptable, but on the big production numbers the orchestra seemed to overwhelm the performers to the extent that one could not determine who was singing or hear what was sung.

Otherwise, this is a superior stage production with seamless scene changes, great choreography and a young, talented cast that never quits. The show is perfectly paced to maintain a level of excitement with its largely young audience. Granted, it’s not Andrew Lloyd Webber, but perhaps this pop-phenomenon’s most valuable asset is that it may encourage young people’s further interest in live theatre.

© 2008 John Jane