Theatrical Review – Disney’s High School Musical
By Dick Franztreb
Honestly, I’ve never seen anything like this before, and I doubt that you have either. I’m talking about the end of this amazing show, but I’ll get to that in a moment. El Dorado Musical Theatre first produced Disney’s High School Musical in 2007, so they knew what they were doing this second time around. And EDMT is about continuous improvement in everything they undertake, so wildly popular as Disney’s original movie and the subsequent musical have been, it’s hard to imagine that any other production â€” anywhere â€” could surpass this one.
There’s no question that kids will love this show, but I can’t imagine an adult who won’t also find it thoroughly entertaining. It deals with young love, with exploring new interests and relationships, with coping with hard choices, with loyalty and betrayal, etc. Ultimately, the story captures emotions that both kids and adults can relate to. And I’d urge adults to come if they want to understand kids a little better by seeing something they relate to so well.
Choreography is a highlight in every EDMT production, and in High School Musical there was one impressively choreographed musical number after another, each full of high-energy, well coordinated moves. And not only are these moves not repeated in other numbers; I don’t recall ever having seen anything quite like them. “Get’cha Head in the Game” was one extraordinary number, with a large number of kids dancing with basketballs. Dribbling, passing, and ball tricks were part of the exciting choreography, and they really looked they knew how to handle a basketball. “Cellular Fusion” was another impressive number, with as many as 60 kids dancing while handling cell phones.
As always, the leads performed beautifully. I saw the Juliet Cast with Andrew Wilson and Lauren Metzinger as Troy and Gabriella, the two romantic leads. They had many memorable moments, but in my notes I wrote the word “powerful” after seeing their duet in “What I’ve Been Looking For.” Throughout the show Andrew sang and acted to his usual professional standards and even handled the basketball well. And I was taken time and again with Lauren’s pure singing voice. Madison Sykes plays Gabriella in the Romeo cast, and I’m sure her performance is as solid as Lauren’s. Claire Soulier plays bad girl Sharpay in the Juliet cast, with Zach Wilson as her lackey, Ryan. The two of them perform beautifully together, and their dancing was especially notable to me. Anjie Rose Wilson, a superb dancer, plays Sharpay in the Romeo cast, and her performance would be something to see. Out of all the other excellent cast members, I have to single out Quentin Casl as Jack Scott, the announcer for the school’s video news. He had one long monologue in particular with tongue-twisters and a lightning-fast delivery that he pulled off perfectly. (Andrew, Zach and Quentin are in both casts.)
As a general rule, none of the actors in EDMT productions are over 19 â€” even when they’re playing adults of different ages. In this show, it made sense to have the drama teacher and basketball coach be adults since every other actor is supposed to be a teenager. That opened the way for Director and Choreographer Debbie Wilson to reprise the role she played in EDMT’s earlier send-up of this show. She obviously practices what she teaches the kids, giving a stellar performance as the edgy drama teacher.
I had seen Disney’s High School Musical once before, and really didn’t care much for it. But what I saw this past Friday night was completely different. For a start there was the outstanding choreography, singing and acting. But what helped make this show so thoroughly entertaining was the enormous number of creative touches. One example is the drama class scene, where the kids are told to imitate animals. I still laugh when I think of the boy who imitated the earthworm. Another important element in this production was the projected images. Over the past few years, the quality of projections has steadily improved under the growing skill of Zach Wilson, and the images in this show were especially effective. What was displayed on the screen at the back of the stage and on the smaller screens at the sides looked like a complete set.
Throughout the evening there was great vitality in the music and dancing, but in one of the last numbers, “Breaking Free,” I felt something different. The energy just bloomed, rising to an emotional high that surely was felt by everyone in the audience. Then in what seemed like the last number, a reprise of “We’re All in This Together,” all the characters are reconciled, and as an audience member I expected the bows to begin. Instead, we got a reprise of one number in the show after another. One platoon of young people after another came out to sing and dance their hearts out. It felt like an encore with no ending, and it was fabulous â€” like nothing I’d ever seen before, an explosion of energy and joy that went on and on.
This is a musical that the younger set will love, but so will you. Not only is it cute and clever, well-performed, endearing and engaging, but it’s tremendously energizing. Skip the stop at Starbuck’s on the way to the show â€” you won’t need it.