Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

High School Musical

Book by David Sympatico, based on the original Disney Channel Movie by Peter Barsocchini
Stage Engertainment U.K. Ltd. in association with Disney Theatrical Productions
New Victoria Theatre, Woking, and touring
(2009)

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If you enjoyed the ‘tongue in cheek’ adolescent love story which was Grease, and were exhilarated by the non-stop energetic dance routines of Fame, then you can’t help but love Disney’s latest money spinner which is High School Musical. First aired on the Disney Channel in 2006, it amazed even its creators by the magnitude of its popularity world wide. I believe the film version is now on its third sequel, and there is even HSM on Ice.

The hard-working, talented and energetic cast put every ounce of their being into each and every number – it would have been an added bonus if we had been able to distinguish the lyrics above the volume of the music, but perhaps it didn’t matter as the story is pretty well self-explanatory, and most of the audience were very familiar with the characters, many of them dressing for the occasion in the regulation red and white.

Troy of the ‘Jocks’ meets Gabriella, one of the ‘Brainiacs’ and there is instant attraction, but will Troy’s sports-mad father manage to persuade him to stay with the game, or will he follow his dream and defect to the ‘Thespians’? Of course love wins in the end and everyone in this squeaky clean musical gets nicely paired off – even the school principal (Claire Machin) and the head coach (Jody Crosier), Troy’s father.

Although portraying teenage youth, with the message that following your dreams and being true to yourself makes life worthwhile, whole families were thoroughly enjoying the show from every aspect, including many very young children. It was a restless audience with much coming and going, but that didn’t in any way detract from their enjoyment judging by the cheering, clapping and whistling, and the appreciation of the comedy elements. One of the highlights, it seemed, was the cream laden cake landing in the face of jealous and arrogant Sharpay, who eventually turned out to be more vulnerable than was at first apparent. Everyone has to have a good side in a feel-good Disney musical.

Troy and Gabriella are Ashley Day and Claire-Marie Hall, their voices blending beautifully in the song “I Can’t Take My Eyes off You”, and here we could hear every syllable, enhanced by superb orchestration, played by a nine-piece orchestra under the direction of Mark Crossland.

Jodie Beth Meyer is bespectacled and earnest Thespian Kelsi who has rewritten ‘Juliet and Romeo’ with a happy ending, and there is strong and well rounded support from the protagonists’ best friends, played by Carlton Connell and Hannah Levane, while Richard Vincent is the effusive school broadcaster who keeps the action moving right along.

Drama queen Sharpay (Emma Kelly - delivery and tone of voice owe a lot to Miss Piggy) and her camp brother Ryan (Lee Honey-Jones) provide a riotously funny double act, and I have to mention the one who comically inches his way across the floor of the stage to gain praise from the drama teacher: “Well done – I had no idea an earthworm had such depth of feeling!”

This cash cow (tickets, programmes and essential merchandise) shows no sign of slowing down and being put out to pasture and, for the hard work and dedication of its thirty-strong exceptional cast, it deserves every bit of its phenomenal success.

Touring to Southampton, Nottingham, Salford, Southend, Stoke-on-Trent, Liverpool, Bristol, Wales Millenium Centre, Miltol Keynes, Norwich, and Edinburgh.

Katharine Capocci reviewed this production at the Sunderland Empire.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor