The millions of tweenagers who have already bought into the undeniable charms of the original Disney made-for-TV movie which kick-started the High School Musical global phenomenon (HSM3 is on its way) will of course already know who’s gonna bop to the top of this class.
Everything works out fine and dandy when brainy but shy new girl Gabriella Montez and East High Wildcats basketball team captain, glamour boy Troy Bolton, break through the rigid school cliques, discover they can both sing like latter-day versions of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, and eventually go on to win the plum roles – and each other’s hearts. That’s after she’s also led the clever Brainiacs to victory in the scholastic decathlon and he’s driven the winning ball into the back of the net in the vital championship match against West High. Yes guys, it’s high fives and high notes in this school gym.
The stage version of High School Musical (a UK touring production is also spreading the show’s surely admirable message of defining your own goals and following your dream, whether it’s baking a crème brulee or solving chemistry equations) more or less mirrors the original movie’s Grease-meets-Fame scenario, give or take a few dialogue tweaks, plus some new songs (“Cellular Fusion”, “Counting on You” and a stonking “High School Megamix” finale) and a new character, the school’s geeky public address announcer, Jack Scott.
But high school harmony breaking out on stage in anthemic numbers such as \"Start of Something New\", \"Stick to the Status Quo\" and \"We\'re All in This Together\", a succession of deftly executed dance routines and learning lessons about asserting your own personality rather than being straight-jacketed by others, is kindergarten stuff compared to the arm-waving, roar-raising effect all of this preppy pop has on its target audience.
For tweenage kicks, there’s nothing quite like High School Musical. From the get-go, it’s one relentless sugar rush, making Disney’s other UK stage outings, Mary Poppins and The Lion King, seem tamer than the Teletubbies. And when even sweet little five-year-olds dressed as East High cheerleaders start to baby boogie in the aisles, grown ups – like it or not – simply have to sit back, buy an “I love Troy” t-shirt and forgive and forget the tawdriness of the sets, the over-amplified vocals and corn-fed lines that sometimes sound like Disney-fied blanditudes.
The cast deservedly earn their high-decibel curtain call cheers, especially Claire-Marie Hall growing in confidence as love-struck but academically gifted Gabriella; Mark Evans as boy-next-door Troy discovering his best friend in Gabriella while learning to relate to his over-strict dad; Rebecca Faulkenberry as East High’s very own bad girl, Sharpay Evans; and Letitia Dean gloriously camping it up while handing out detentions as no-nonsense Ms Darbus, the thespian drama club teacher who surely studied OTT acting under Ethel Merman.
But at least for the coming weeks, kids can gleefully forget the classroom reality of academic testing and everything else that goes with today’s world of “education, education, education”. High School Musical achieves high marks simply because it’s cool, cool, cool.
- Roger Foss