Sunday, August 05, 2007

High School Musical (The SOB Review)

High School Musical (The SOB Review) - LaSalle Bank Theatre, Chicago, IL

** (0ut of ****)

"Awesome!" "Cool!" "Wow!" "There were so many things to look at!" "Where were all the kids from the movie, mommy?"

Those comments summed up the audience response I overheard as I ventured out of Disney's touring production of High School Musical, a stage adaptation from the House of Mouse's enormously popular 2006 made-for-television movie (for the record, I have not seen the TV flick). The jubilant pre-tween crowd was enthusiastic, yet they wondered where Zac Efron and Vanessa Anne Hudgens were.

Fortunately for adults, the show is generally engaging, although the score -- written by almost as many songwriters as Spring Awakening has producers (OK, not quite) -- is often unfocused and mostly derivative. It would help if there had been one set of songwriters tackling the entire show (it's a good thing Lisa Stephens' energized choreography more than made up for some of the weaker tunes).

Having said that, the critical climactic "Breaking Free" by Jamie Houston -- certainly worthy of the fantastic score from this year's Tony-winning Best Musical -- was both rousing and stirring in subtly reassuring its young audience that it's perfectly fine to be who you are by following your heart. If only Houston had written the rest of the score.

High School Musical's cast mostly shines, with a winning John Jeffrey Martin as jock-cum-singer Troy Bolton and an enchanting Arielle Jacobs as his love interest Gabriella Montez, the new girl in school. Together, they provide plenty of electricity, even if they're underserved by the score and hackneyed book by David Simpatico.

While the story initially has flourishes of another, more mature high school-oriented musical Grease, it inevitably turns into a battle for the destinies -- if you can have one at that age -- of these two would-be lovers.

Troy is pulled by his fellow basketball team members, as well as by his coach and father (a woefully underused Ron Bohmer), to focus on winning the big championship. "Get'cha Head In The Game" (written Ray Cham, Greg Cham and Andrew Seeley) nicely foreshadows the trouble ahead in this regard.

Super-smart Gabriella, a math and science wiz, is pressured to lead the brainiacs toward a win in mental gymnastics. But Troy and Gabriella want it all: they want all the success that comes with being a jock and scholar in addition to the leads in the eponymous activity.

However, blonde beauty Sharpay (a one dimensional Chandra Lee Schwartz) stands in their way. With a sense of entitlement as president of the drama club, Sharpay enlists the support of her hapless brother Ryan (played with maximum effete effect by Bobby List), and she's prepared to do anything to secure the lead role for herself. Her conniving even provides a sly dig at George W. Bush.

But the problem with Simpatico's writing is that we never understand how Sharpay ever became so popular in the first place since she's drawn so narrowly. And futhermore, it's mind boggling how or why the affable athlete/baker Zeke Baylor (Ben Thompson) would be drawn to her, even in the end. Worse, there's never any real tension dramatic or otherwise.

In this Disney world that's full of pop references and youthful slang, everyone lives happily ever after. While perhaps not a bad message for the target audience, it sure had me hoping that the classroom's final bell would ring sooner than later.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.

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3 Comments:

At 05 August, 2007, Anonymous Esther said...

I have watched the movie, and I was a little disappointed. I thought it would be more about the actual staging of a high school musical. Instead, it's about the events leading up to the musical. Plus, it takes place in the most antiseptic-looking school you've ever seen! There's not a smudge of dirt or a grungy looking kid in sight! But, like you said, it is popular. And maybe it'll get kids interested in seeing other musicals. That would be a good thing.

 
At 05 August, 2007, Anonymous e said...

I saw this production when it premiered in Atlanta, and felt EXACTLY the same way. I actually laughed a little at the family next to me: the children were WEEPING when the realized that the stars of the movie were not in this stage version....

"This" stage version being the operative term. Apparently, at the same time as the show opened in Atlanta, there was a "High School Musical: On Tour" CONCERT - which did indeed feature the cast from the film. I felt bad for the little kids, and sympathized a bit with the parents. I mean, with the same logo and a lot of fine print, it was virtually impossible to tell the difference between the two productions.

And an antiseptic quality pervaded the stage show, too, Esther. I walked out of the theater thinking that if I had children, I'd like them to go to a school like that. I had to laugh again when the kids said something like, "Meet me in the botany lab on the roof" and then this AMAZING facility shows up. Again...not like any high school in America, but I wish it were available.

Mostly, I was just disgusted by the families around me. This was one of the events where they allowed food and drink into the theater (because of all the children, I suppose)...and all of these families left PILES of garbage, as if we were at the circus.

Wait...it was "High School Musical." Actually..not unlike a circus.

: )

 
At 09 August, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther - The stage version was much the same. As E pointed out, there aren't many high schools around that have a beautiful botany lab.

The one silver lining of this show is that it did say to its audience that being involved in live theatre is far from a nerdy thing to do. In fact, it's downright admirable. So on that score, I give the show high points.

To E's point about kids thinking the film version's stars would be in it, I'll leave you with this:

When I was a small kid, McDonalds' television commercials would announce that Ronald McDonald would be coming to one of the Mickey D's nearest me (only no one called them Mickey Ds back then) - the ads always showed Ronald coming in on a flying hamburger, yet when I went so I could see that gosh darned flying hamburger, it was nowhere in sight.

I was so disappointed, but shortly thereafter, I began to realize that television didn't necessarily portray things as they really were. I mean, after all, most of the cartoon characters only had four digits on each hand.

So maybe it's a lesson learned for parents... that they need to prepare their kids for the harsh cold reality of a live Disney show.

And speaking of cold, did you know that Disney is extending this High School Musical to ice shows? What will be next? "High School Musical - The Ride" at Disney World?

But I digress.

 

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