This is the McDonald's of children's theatre, and the programme rather disturbingly features an advert for breast enlargement surgery, highlighting the franchise's appeal to everything big, bouncy and fake. That said, it doesn't sell its tween-age audience short, serving up a slickly choreographed evening that will doubtless keep fans happy until the next sequel.
The story is breathtakingly simple. Handholders Troy and Gabriella get summer jobs at a holiday camp owned by the father of Sharpay Evans, Gabriella's rival for Troy's (very mild) affections - so no prizes for guessing the source of conflict. The camp is overseen by depressed but kind-hearted Mr Fulton, the only adult in sight, and their fellow camp employees are made up of their high school buds, the 'Wildcats', who represent the forces of good with their fondness for sports and close-harmony singing.
This was my first encounter with the HSM machine. I'd heard the rumours, I'd seen the posters, but until being confronted with the full glossy spectacle I hadn't quite grasped just how incredibly saccharine it is. It makes Saved by the Bell look like The Wire. That said, it's well directed (by Jeff Calhoun), neatly designed (Kenneth Foy) and features a handful of strong performances, particularly from Lauren Hall as Sharpay, the only interesting character on offer.
The songs are bland as beige, with the toe-curlingly awful “You are the Music in Me” masquerading as the big hit. But however unimaginative the music may be, it's well performed by a talented ensemble and clearly went down a storm with the rows of screaming kids around me.
A final word must go to Les Dennis, who at one stage during the course of a rather featureless performance has to deliver a speech about the indignities adults must face in order to pay the bills. Enough said.