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The first national tour of Disney’s High School Musical On Tour, produced by Disney Theatrical Productions and presented Jan. 29-Feb. 3 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium by Broadway Series South, is an exuberant live version of the perennially popular 2006 Disney Channel Original Movie, which has already spawned two sequels and a bestselling CD and DVD. The spectacular stage show, which received a hearty standing ovation after Tuesday night’s performance, even features a couple of songs not in the film.
Kenneth Foy’s ingenious sets employ striking East High School Wildcat-themed backdrops and mix-and-match rows of student lockers on rollers to represent various classroom, gym, auditorium, and other locations at East High School. This versatile and highly mobile scenery allows director Jeff Calhoun and choreographer Lisa Stevens to make lightning-fast scene changes. The result is positively cinematic.
The spirited cast, which recreates the now-familiar characters of the film with grit and great gusto, also does its part to make each performance of High School Musical an evening or afternoon to remember.
The tour stars the charismatic duo of John Jeffrey Martin as star basketball player and team captain and all-around Big Man on Campus Troy Bolton and Arielle Jacobs as mathematics and science wiz Gabriella Montez, a shy newcomer to East High whom Troy first meets during a karaoke contest at a ski resort. The attraction is instant — and mutual — and soon the couple is making beautiful music together during tryouts for the school’s feminist spring musical, Juliet and Romeo, written by fellow student Kelsi Nielson (the cute-as-a-bug Olivia Oguma, who’s not in the spotlight nearly enough).
When Troy and Gabriella audition for the leads in Juliet and Romeo, they not only turn heads and get a callback, but they chagrin East High’s resident diva and drama club president Sharpay Evans (Chandra Lee Schwartz) and her erstwhile sidekick and song-and-dance partner, her eight-minutes’ younger fraternal twin Ryan (Bobby List). (Sharpay and Ryan expect to land the starring roles in the school musical because … they always do.)
Unfortunately for Gabriella and Troy, the callbacks for Juliet and Romeo conflict with a prestigious science-club competition and an all-important big basketball game with East High’s bitterest rival. So, while Sharpay and Ryan Evans plot to make sure that the scheduling snafu snuffs out Troy and Gabriella’s chances for stardom, the leaders of the brainiac and jock cliques belatedly conspire to make sure that Bolton and Montez get their chance to grab the brass ring.
As Troy and Gabriella, John Jeffrey Martin and Arielle Jacobs not only have great romantic chemistry; but their dynamic duets on “Start of Something New,” What I’ve Been Looking For,” “I Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” “When There was Me and You,” and “Breaking Free” are among the show’s musical highlights.
Chandra Lee Schwartz as Sharpay provides a villain that lacks only a poison apple of being the ultimate Queen of Mean, and Bobby List is hilarious as the goofy and not so loyal Ryan. Shakiem Evans and Shaullanda LaCombe are good as Troy’s best friend Chad Danforth and science club president Taylor McKessie; Ron Bohmer is amusing as Troy’s no-nonsense father and sternest taskmaster Coach Jack Bolton; Michael Mahany is cute as school P.A. announcer Jack Scott; and Lizzie Weiss adds a clever comic cameo as Martha Cox, a brainiac who secretly loves hip-hop. But it is Ellen Harvey who steals the show with her outrageous antics as high-strung high school drama teacher Ms. Darbus, a.k.a. Darbus the Deranged.
Clever musical staging by director Jeff Calhoun and choreographer Lisa Stevens combine with spirited instrumentals by music director Robert Sprayberry and the HSM Orchestra and outstanding production values by scenic designer Kenneth Foy, costume designer Wade Laboissonniere, lighting designer Kenneth Billington, and sound designer Duncan Robert Edwards to make Disney’s High School Musical on Tour a memorable musical — and you don’t have to have seen the TV movie to enjoy it.
Broadway Series South presents Disney’s High School Musical on Tour Thursday-Friday, Jan. 31-Feb. 1, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 2, at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, Feb. 3, at 1 and 6:30 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $17-$67. Progress Energy Box Office: 919/831-6060. Group Discounts (for groups of 20 or more): 919/857-4565, email@example.com. Other tickets through presenter's website. Student Ticket Special: Starting one hour before each performance, students with ID may buy any remaining tickets for $20 each at the Progress Energy Center Box Office. Broadway Series South: http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/. The Show: http://disney.go.com/theatre/highschoolmusical/. The Movie: http://tv.disney.go.com/disneychannel/originalmovies/highschoolmusical/index.html (official web site), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0475293/ (Internet Movie Database). High School Musical On Tour Study Guide: http://amedia.disney.go.com/theatre/highschoolmusical/pdf/HSM-StudyGuide.pdf. Olivia Oguma: http://www.ibdb.com/person.asp?ID=110884 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0644816/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://www.broadwayworld.com/bios/viewstar.cfm?starid=455 [inactive 1/09] (BroadwayWorld.com).