The TV-movie-phenom-turned-stage-musical Disney’s High School Musical was enthusiastically received at the American Cabaret Theatre last Friday during its opening week. Probably, a large number of friends and family were in the house to lend encouragement to the 33 local young adults taking on this almost cult-like show. But even last Wednesday, its opening night, as I drove by the ACT, I saw a gaggle of tweens with their moms headed for the theater. While I found the movie to be cheesy in the extreme, the tween and teen crowd have latched onto it, and, much like people hope Harry Potter will turn a generation on to reading, I hope that this show will introduce young people to the theater.
Wishful thinking, huh?
While the stage version tries to keep the storyline intact, some elements must be changed out of necessity. The one that struck me the most was the new Grease-like beginning (think “Summer Nights”). But overall, things move along more or less in tune with the movie. Jock meets intellectual nerd, there is a musical spark and they throw off the clique conventions of the student body to pursue their dreams.
There is more high school to the ACT’s production than just the name of the show. First, many of the cast members are either still in high school or are recent graduates. Second, there are a lot of stiff bodies and flat deliveries of dialogue on stage. That said, when the cast is at its best, singing and choreography is top-notch.
Tim Barsten as Troy and Jessica Murphy as Gabriella work well together as the star-crossed lovers. Both have excellent voices, and they meld nicely together. The same can be said for the heads of the drama club, Chelsea McLean as Sharpay and J. Tyler Whitmer as Ryan. McLean and Whitmer are especially cute in “What I’ve Been Looking For.” Additionally, Whitmer is one of the more interesting actors, playing his so-obviously-gay character with flair. Also notable acting-wise is Alex Oberheide as PA announcer Jack (nicely placed in a balcony seat for effect), whose intensely funny characterization would steal scenes if he wasn’t already monologuing.
Melissa Schott and Michele Martin, choreographers and co-owners of Dance Connection, really pull the moves out of the kids, creating fantastic dance numbers out of “Stick to the Status Quo” and “High School Musical Remix.”
Director Bob Harbin will undoubtedly have a hit on his hands, just from the sheer draw of the show. But parents and friends who are in tow will find it entertaining as well.
Disney’s High School Musical continues through July 15 (no show July 4). Tickets are $25-$30; students are $24. Call the ACT for reservations, 317-631-0334.