High School Musical’s London Term Time
Fans of the hit Disney Channel movie High School Musical need no introduction to the world of East High, where school’s popular basketball ace Troy Bolton and ‘Brainiac’ maths genius Gabriella Montez discover they share a secret passion for singing. With the stage production now opened for a summer term in London, meet the new Gabriella and Troy, Claire-Marie Hall and Mark Henry-Evans, and EastEnders’ Letitia Dean, who plays passionate drama teacher Ms Darbus.
CLAIRE-MARIE HALL – is Gabriella Montez
How would Gabriella be described in her East High school report card?
She arrived at her new school and was obviously shy but very brainy. Top marks for science and maths puts her in the Brainiac league. At first she didn’t care too much about fitting in. Now she’s gained confidence and is making friends, especially with East High Wildcats basketball team captain Troy Bolton. After secretly auditioning with Troy and then easily winning the lead in the school musical version of Romeo and Juliet, she’s definitely creating an impression, especially with drama teacher Ms Darbus.
Do you relate to Gabriella?
She’s me when I was younger, the shy one who blossoms. That’s why I wanted the role so much. I changed school twice, which was hard because everyone had their cliques – just like in High School Musical – but I made friends when I became involved in singing competitions and part-time drama club at weekends. I got into school musicals, like Oklahoma! and Annie, although unlike Gabriella I was never the lead.
Academically, were you a Brainiac?
Oh I was a brainy kid! I had an A Level at maths, won a science award and got 11 GCSE A stars. I was all set to go to Cambridge and be a lawyer. I went for the interviews, but by then I had come out of my shell and I knew I wanted to make a career in performing arts, so I sat down with my mum and dad and thankfully they understood.
What does Gabriella see in Troy?
She realises that he is someone who accepts her for what she is. Everyone else is trying to get her involved with different cliques, but Troy is her true soulmate.
Gabriella seems like your dream role.
From the moment I got the first call about the audition, I really wanted to be part of this show. I’ve been very lucky with work. I finished college and went straight into Les Misérables – and then I got this part. I feel blessed.
What message does High School Musical send to young people?
Be who you are. Value teamwork. Don’t try and change things about yourself just to fit in. Never be afraid of what you want to do. But High School Musical is for the family – mums and dads love it and I’m sure my granddad will be there along with his posse waving his arms in time to the songs.
MARK EVANS – is Troy Bolton
Is it daunting playing Troy on stage? He’s so adored by High School Musical fans.
The enormity is a bit of a pressure, but it’s great to be a part of the whole thing. I’ll just do my best and hope the fans will like me. I was thrilled when I got the part, but I’m also feeling a lot of weight on my shoulders.
How are your basketball skills?
At school we were mostly into football and rugby. Fortunately we’re getting an England coach to come in and train us, and I’m looking forward to the big ‘ball of sound’ routine with the jocks in the gym. Norman Bowman, who plays my dad Coach Bolton, always carries two basketballs on stage – one under each arm – just in case the one I’m using bounces the wrong way!
Were you a Jock or a Brainiac?
I enjoyed sports at school but I’d always be edging to get out and go to drama classes or piano practice. When I was ten I’d be singing around the house annoying my sister and brothers. Even then, my mind was on performing.
So you weren’t like Troy?
I wouldn’t say I was the coolest kid at school, so maybe I’m a tiny bit jealous of him. To be honest, I think I was a bit of a geek. But now I’m into sports and singing, and I also have a lot of friends around me, just like Troy.
What does Troy see in Gabriella?
She shows him something he didn’t realise about himself – that there is more to life than doing just one thing. Troy has found a best friend.
Does High School Musical inspire young people to aim for a career in musical theatre?
I hope so. High School Musical is cool and up-to-date, and it’s about aspiration and having faith in yourself. I’m all for promoting youth theatre. I run my own summer school in north Wales where I come from, and it’s great to see young people striving to do well. Kids get such a hard time at the moment, but here’s a musical message about enjoying your teens.
Why does Troy get so much grief from his dad?
Coach Bolton puts pressure on him to achieve more than he did when he was young. That’s why he comes down hard on Troy’s drama club connections. I can relate to that. I grew up in the Welsh hills where my dad was a farmer. He used to think that going to dance classes wasn’t the sort of thing I should be doing. Now he’s seen how much I’ve achieved, he’s really proud.
LETITIA DEAN – is Ms Darbus
What’s your beginning-of-term assessment of Ms Darbus?
She adores her students and she’s very eccentric. She’s firm but fair – and she lives and breathes theatre and confiscates cell phones in class. I’d think she knows every Shakespeare play off by heart. She probably hoped to be Meryl Streep when she was younger, but it didn’t quite happen for her.
Any of Ms Darbus in you?
I suppose we both share a love of the arts. She’s also deeply passionate, like me.
Are you nervous about returning to the stage?
I’m excited more than anything. I did a lot of cabaret and theatre shows before I worked on EastEnders. I grew up loving Doris Day, Judy Garland and the movie musicals, so this is a medium I’ve wanted to return to for a long time.
How would you rate your American accent?
I’m working hard and trying to make it as authentic as possible. The last time I played an American was when I was 13 years old – a tough orphan called Pepper in Annie at the Victoria Palace. I was a little anxious about the accent when I auditioned, but the company kindly got me a voice coach the day before. I spent a couple of hours going over the script with her and it’s gone well since then.
What do you think of the High School Musical phenomenon?
I mention High School Musical to my friends’ children and they all stop breathing with excitement. I went to see the touring production and I’ve never seen youngsters so involved in the action, many of them in their cheerleader outfits. They are completely quiet as the story unfolds and then start dancing in the aisles as soon as the songs kick in.
High School Musical opened in London on 5 July 2008 (previews from 28 June) at the Hammersmith Apollo, where it’s booking until 28 August. A version of this article appeared in the June issue of What’s On Stage magazine. Click here to thumb through our online back issue. And to guarantee your copy of future print editions - and also get all the benefits of our Theatre Club - click here to subscribe now!!