Play: Disney High School Musical
Group: The Muny
Venue: The Muny in Forest Park
Dates: Through July 2
Tickets: From free to $64; contact 314-534-111, www.metrotix.com or at The Muny box office
Story: East High junior Troy Bolton, star of the school’s "Wildcats" basketball team, meets Gabriella Montez at a New Year’s Eve karaoke celebration in the mountains. When he returns to his Albuquerque high school in January, he learns that Gabriella has unexpectedly transferred there. The two renew their friendship and both decide to audition for the school’s new musical, Juliet & Romeo, a feminist perspective of The Bard’s classic tragedy written by fellow student Kelsi Nielsen.
Trouble is, Troy’s basketball teammates and Coach Bolton, his father, want him to concentrate on the state championship game. And Gabriella’s new friends in the math and science club want the brainy lass to help them win their own competition. As for the school’s regular star performers, twins Sharpay and Ryan Evans, they’re unhappy about competing for their usual choice turns, although the director, Ms. Darbus, encourages additional tryouts to get more students involved in the drama program.
Who wins? Who loses? Stay tuned.
Highlights: First aired in early 2006 on The Disney Channel, Disney’s High School Musical has been a phenomenal success, spinning off two sequels, a soon-to-be-released theatrical movie, a skating version and a touring show that played The Fox earlier just this year. The Muny’s production will run for 10 days, playing to a nearly packed house on opening night.
On the plus side, the show offers abundant opportunities for Muny Kids to cavort on stage in several of the show’s larger scenes, and takes advantage of The Muny’s expansive stage for the big choreographed numbers. Additionally, a couple of performances stand out from the crowd, notably Andrea Goss as "brainiac" Gabriella and hometown actress Gretchen Bieber as the vapid, self-centered Sharpay. Both women have notable singing talent and play their roles well, too.
Other Info: The problems with this production, however, overwhelm its attributes. Oddly, The Muny has chosen to use canned music rather than its own talented orchestra, and the lack of energy is noticeable. As for the work itself, too often it comes across as packaged, sterile, predictable, flat and formulaic, nothing that innovator Walt Disney himself would have wanted. Glancing around at the audience on opening night, it appeared that many of the numerous moms and daughters in attendance were more dutiful and respectful to the production than enthusiastic and delighted; applause often was more polite than robust. And the shameless references to other Disney works such as Toy Story and The Lion King only underscore the weakness of the tepid script by David Simpatico.
Alan Muraoka’s direction is uninspired and the tunes are uniformly forgettable. Others in the cast include the pleasant Colin Donnell as Troy, Brandon Bieber as Sharpay’s slavish brother Ryan, Stephen Bogardus in the one-dimensional role of Coach Bolton, Ann Harada as the uninspiring Ms. Darbus, Megan McGinnis as playwright Kelsi, Tallia Brinson as Gabriella’s newfound friend Taylor, Justin Keyes as a jock with a penchant for baking, Christopher Spaulding as Troy’s pal Chad and Etai Benshlomo as the cloyingly obnoxious school DJ Jack Scott.
Functional sets designed by Steve Gilliam provide suitable backdrop for the school proceedings, complemented by David Lander’s lighting design, with costumes courtesy of Kansas City Costume. Liza Gennaro’s choreography is OK but, again, this production is more slick than stylish. Hopefully the kids will enjoy the proceedings, but it’s a long two hours for some of us codgers.
Rating: A 2.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.