Review: High School Musical
High School Musical is relentlessly cheerful, squeaky-clean fun with all the energy of an enthusiastic puppy. You can't help but get sucked in.
I’ve never seen High School Musical – there, I’ve said it. Zac Efron’s 2006 phenomenon passed me by. It was a humungous tweenage phenomenon that started life as a humble made-for-tv film and ballooned to cult status with two sequels, a concert tour, stage musical, ice show, video game and a 10-episode TV series will be launching later this year. Quite the money spinner.
If you were living in a blackhole in the noughties too, it’s basically a sanitised Grease reboot. There will be no hickeys from Kenickie in this show. Just like Grease, girl meets boy and both fight social ostracism to find true love in high school. Troy Bolton is the superstar basketball player who has discovered his inner drama geek and the brainiac new girl, Gabriella Montez, is being forced to hang with the nerds but really just wants to sing with Troy, snog his face off and then read a good book (hormonal teeenagers, hey). Cue self doubt, peer pressure and a rocky road to romance.
So far, so Grease. From the opening scene when Troy (Sam Gillett) and new girl Gabrielle (Amber Watson) bump into each other in the school hall, as they start to break into song, I’m half expecting Summer Loving to burst out of their mouths – instead we get Start Of Something New. Throw in our very own Pink Lady, Sharpay, played brilliantly by Poppy Ridell and you can see Rydale High similarities.
However, unlike Grease, Gabrielle doesn’t have to go to squeeze into Spandex, go wild with the heating tongs and start smoking to get her guy. Shame on you Sandy. In High School Musical, brainy Gabriella and sporty Troy are (eventually) allowed to have it all and stay in their cliques; but explore new friendships and express themselves without judgement – a rejection of the status quo.
The stage version, peppily directed by Mark Hooper includes all the infectious songs from the film. But what you really need to know is that Sam Gillett, who plays Troy, the Wildcats team captain, sings well, is very cute, has a nice smile and a naughty glint in his eyes. Young girls in the audience were declaring their love for him by the end of the second act. Sam was lapping up the adoration. I think Zac would’ve approved. Dedicated followers of Zac Efron should nevertheless be warned that Sam does not possess Efron’s signature swooshy hair. I repeat: no swooshy hair on Troy.
Aside from this possibly heretical departure, Amber Weston (who got all the swooshy hair) as Gabrielle is phenomenal. Her voice is mind-blowingly good. I don’t think she sang one bum note. And when you put Sam and Amber’s voices together, it was simply wow. Poppy Riddell also killed her vocals as Sharpay. In fact she reminded me of a young Sheridan Smith. I couldn’t keep my eyes off her when she was on stage… although it could have been the big sequinned cardi she was wearing. Obsessed.
There were a few sounds issues and some pitchy moments in some of the songs, but the stronger singers in the cast propped up the weaker ones. That said, this lot can shake their booty very nicely to the beat. One routine which required some tricky sychronised ball skills was utterly brilliant. It’s worth noting this is a professionally produced community production. Many of the ensemble were made up of kids who had taken part in South Hill Park’s Easter School. They danced, they sang, they nailed it. I was beaming with pride, and they’re not even my kids. Amazing.
High School Musical is on at South Hill Park Bracknell until Mon 22 Apr. Grab tickets while you can.