Friday, August 17, 2007

High School Musical

A boy and a girl meet on vacation and feel an attraction to each other. They sing to each other sweetly. When vacation is over and they go their separate ways, thinking they will never see each other again. Back at school, they tell their friends about the vacation romance. It turns out that she is the newest student in his school, but he’s not the guy she fell for; he’s a jock and lives in a jock world. What to do, what to do?

No, it’s not a remake of “Grease” – but yet it kind of is. It’s “High School Musical,” the “Grease” for the 21st century, and a snazzy, extremely energetic production is running at the Woodland Opera House through September 16. The production is directed by Amy Vyvlecka with choreography by Stephen Hatcher and it will thrill every adolescent in Yolo County, and their parents will have a good time too.

“High School Musical,” with book by David Simpatico and songs by a whole bunch of people, too numerous to mention, is the stage adaptation of the wildly successful Disney made-for-TV movie released in January of 2006. The film’s soundtrack was the best selling album of 2006, and it was the most watched program for the Disney channel in the UK.

We had the misfortune to be seated in the back row of the Woodland Opera House and the combination of youthful voices which have not yet mastered the art of projection, restless younger children in the audience, and, perhaps, the overhang of the balcony made it extremely difficult to catch much of the conversational dialog which moves the plot along.

But it’s a simple plot and you don’t really need to hear the dialog clearly (unless you are trying to understand of the names of individual characters so you can give them proper credit in a review!)

Troy Bolton (Justin Kelley) is the star basketball player who has suddenly discovered both an interest in Gabriella Montez (Kayla Sheehan) and a singing voice he didn’t know he had. After going through a session of detention in Mrs. Darbus’ (Patricia Glass) drama class, during which both students find out about auditions for the upcoming musical, “Juliet and Romeo,” they contemplate auditioning.

There are complications. Troy’s father (Trent Beeby) is the basketball coach and won’t hear of his son singing. Reigning drama queen, Sharpay Evans (Emily Jo Seminoff) and her twin brother Ryan (Tyler Warren), afraid of a little competition, have arranged for auditions to conflict with the game at which the school could win the championship, which means the audition also happens to be the same day that the school “braniacs” are participating in a scholastic decathalon and they are counting on Gabriella to help them win.

(Yes, suspend your disbelief before you leave home!)

Music, mischief and mayhem ensue and of course it all works out in the end.

The choreography in this production is spectacular. Every number is great, but a basketball number, “Get’cha Head in the Game” takes your breath away. “Cellular Fusion” which is also very clever, is reminiscent of the telephone number in “Bye Bye, Birdie” updated to the cell phone age.

There are several very good performances. Leading the pack is Rob Blake, who, in the persona of the announcer on the school radio station, keeps a running commentary on what is going on. Blake had absolutely no problems with projection and owned the stage whenever he was on it.

Sheehan and Kelley were very sweet as the lovers, Gabriella and Troy. Kelley has the tall, lanky build of a basketball player, yet manages to do full back flips that would normally be attempted by a more compact person. Sheehan has a sweet, clear voice that works well for her character.

Seminoff as the “bad” girl, Sharpay, plays her role to the hilt. Her years of theatrical experience really show as she pulls out all the stops to be as nasty as she can be to get her way. Warren, as her twin brother is a good dancer and is a good match for Seminoff.

Emylee Rose Covell does well in the smaller role of Taylor McKessie, Gabriella’s best “braniac” friend, who comes up with the scheme that solves several problems, and Erik Catalan gives a solid performance as Troy’s best friend Chad Danforth.

Worth watching in the chorus is young Casey Camacho, who has no speaking lines and is merely one of the crowd, but is so enthusiastic about his role that he stands out.

This is a show that has a lot going for it, and has a proven track record among the younger set. The Woodland Opera House does well by the show and nobody who goes to see this production will come away disappointed.

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