Disney's High School Musical

Also see Ann's review of The Male Intellect: An Oxymoron?

John Jeffrey Martin and Cast
Fans of "Disney's High School Musical" on TV should become (or, maybe are before they even go in) fans of Disney's High School Musical On Stage. If some details are changed, the basics are there: the characters, the songs, the premise and the innocent atmosphere. The story (Book by David Simpatico based on the Disney Channel movie written by Peter Barsocchini) of the the high school thrown into a tizzy when the big basketball game, the Scholastic Decathlon and the callbacks for the school musical are all scheduled for the same time (I hate when that happens) is thin, but it's enough to serve as a vessel for young performers to show exuberant dance and pop style singing (Bryan Louiselle is credited for arrangements of the songs by thirteen writers).

Like an homage to Grease, lead characters Troy Bolton (John Jeffrey Martin) and Gabriella Montez (Arielle Jacobs) meet and become smitten at a ski resort on winter break before Troy returns to school to find that Gabriella is at East Hill as well, as a new transfer. Troy is the star basketball player (his father, played by Ron Bohmer, is the coach) and Gabriella is a "brainiac," but they find they have a mutual talent and love for singing, and they secretly want to try out for the school musical. The pressure of possibly letting down their teams is the chief conflict, which is to say there isn't really much of a conflict. The ending is never in question.

Those who tend toward cynicism will have a tough time with the plot. The pre- and pre-pre-teen audience appears to be the target audience (and the show hits a bullseye on that target), because most high schoolers would laugh at, not with, such a fantasy vision of high school in the 21st century. Most high school and middle school students who are passionate about musical theatre, however, should be thrilled to see performers of, or close to, their age dominating a big stage show (the adults don't sing much). The student audience members will imagine casting themselves in the show from the get-go; it's possible some of those dreams could come true as there is a school version available and already being produced all over the country. Theatre groups on hand for the performance I attended included several Girl Scout troops and school drama clubs.

Even the cynics will have to admit that it's all done very well. The group of young performers are very talented; I can't imagine anyone of the appropriate age doing a better job with the singing and dancing. A stand-out beyond the singing and dancing is Martin, a Syracuse Musical Theater graduate with Broadway experience (Hairspray, Rocky Horror Show, Good Vibrations). He succeeds in making Troy more than just the one-dimensional, stereotypical high school jock as seen on TV and in movies. Without apparent effort, through stage presence and nuance, he has developed a complete person from the slight opportunity given. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for this talented young actor.

The sidekick characters Taylor the science club leader (Shaullanda LaCombe) and Troy's best friend and co-player Chad (Shakiem Evans) are on hand, as are the ubiquitous nemesis characters Ryan (Bobby List) and Sharpay (Chaundra Lee Schwartz), siblings who fear anyone ousting them as the school's star thespians. In addition to the aforementioned Coach Bolton, there is teacher and school play director Ms. Darbus (Ellen Harvey). It's formulaic fun for the family (the closest thing to an off-color word is "Shitzu" and the leads don't kiss until the end of the show).

Disney's High School Musical kicks off the 2007 Pittsburgh CLO season, running through June 17 at the Benedum Center. Next up is Oklahoma, beginning June 19 and featuring Shirley Jones as Aunt Eller, Matt Bogart, Jessica Grové, and Jason Graae. Schedule and ticket information is available at PittsburghCLO.org or by calling 412-456-6666.

See the current Schedule of Pittsburgh Theatre.

-- Ann Miner

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