High School Musical

Opera House, Wellington

18/05/2007 - 02/06/2007

Production Details

Based on the original Disney Channel Movie
Director: Murray Lynch
Musical Director: Kate Marshall

Choreographer: Leigh Evans
Set Designer: Murray Lynch

High School Musical, the smash hit Disney TV movie that took everyone by surprise when it surged to the top of the ratings on release this year, is coming to the Wellington stage in May and June of 2007. And, say the show’s producers, all the ingredients that turned the movie into a mega-blockbuster will be there in abundance in the live version: laughter, romance, intrigue, brilliant dance sequences and an unforgettable programme of show-stopping musical numbers.

“This is a feel good, fun-for-all musical in the best traditions of Grease,” says Executive Producer Michael Highsted. “It will remind anyone who ever took part in a school musical what an absolute thrill it was, and make anyone who never took part wish that they had!”

High School Musical tells the story of an unlikely couple — Troy the high school jock and Gabriella the scholastic superstar — whose romance blossoms through a mutual love for music and song, despite obstacles and set-backs along the way. It is set amid preparations for the school musical, Juliet and Romeo, at East High in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Ticket sales have broken all previous sales records for Wellington Musical Theatre – even surpassing those set by the blockbuster Les Miserables when it was first staged in 1994. man y weekend and matinee performances are close to sold out. Patrons are encouraged to book early to avoid missing out on their performance choice. Bookings are through Ticketek of online at www.ticketek.co.nz


While on their family vacations, high school jock and basketball star Troy and brainy Gabriella – two teens who are worlds apart – meet. During a karaoke contest they discover their love for singing, and an interest in each other.

After vacation, Troy discovers that Gabriella is the new girl at East High. Inspired by their holiday performance, they both decide to audition for the school musical. Troy’s best friend Chad and Gabriella’s new friend Taylor discourage them from carrying out their plans.

Troy immerses himself back into basketball. Taylor discovers that Gabriella is a scholastic superstar and recruits her for the decathlon competition. Sharpay and Ryan – the ruling school play stars – are gearing up for starring roles in the musical, and make it very clear that no-one should get in their way!

Auditions begin and all the hopefuls try out. Not knowing each other’s plan, Troy and Gabriella decide to secretly audition … but they’re too late, the auditions have just ended. Kelsi, the show’s student composer, feels sorry for them and at Troy’s request plays a song for them to sing together. They earn a callback, much to Sharpay’s disgust. However, the basketball team wants their star player back, and the brainiacs want Gabriella to help them win the decathlon.

Fate and a scheming Sharpay conspire to make life difficult for Troy and Gabriella, but eventually the whole school rallies around and the two stars pull off a brilliant performance!

Ms Darbus:  Jane McKenna
Coach Bolton:  Steve Joll
Jack:  Mitchell Barlow
Troy:  Michael Whalley
Chad:  Tala Moemai
Zeke:  Sharn Te Pou
Jason:  Matthew Mulholland, Phillip Gurney, Andrew Miller, Ian Vincent
Samuel McLeod

Gabriella:  Greer Samuel
Taylor:  Eva Prowse
Martha:  Alexia Brinsley
Kratnoff:  Holly Finlayson
Alan:  Jared Palleson, Janella Espinas
Susan: Jemma Simpkins, Caryl Illana
James:  Daniel Dew, Wallace Gollan
Sharpay:  Kristy Whitchelo
Ryan:  Sam Benton
Kelsi:  Katrina Ladd
Cyndra:  Sara Warnock
Arty:  Aroha Samuel
Arty:  Jessica Headey
Cathy:  Laura Hinderwell
Ripper:  Nick Purdie
Mongo:  Matthew Fraser, Leon Wadham

Madeleine Schmidt, Shannah Katene, Rebecca Hewitt, Joanna Lees, Skye Hay

Theatre , Musical , Youth ,

Fizzing, youthful energy needs stronger material

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 21st May 2007

The national grid should be linked up to the Opera House stage where there’s an untapped supply of fizzing youthful energy being expended on the commercial phenomenon of Disney’s High School Musical.

The show started life as a 2006 Disney Channel original movie and has been shown all over the world. DVD and CD sales shot into the stratosphere and before long there’s a sequel, a concert version, a karaoke version, a dance-along version, a pop-up version, a book version and a compilation DVD of songs from High School Musicals made in all parts of the world.

On top of all that the High School Musical Pep Rally mini-parade premiered at Disney’s California Adventure in October last year and later this year a High School Musical on Ice will tour the US in August (I’m not kidding).

Approximately 2000 schools across the United States have already been given rights to produce the stage show. The first production in the Southern Hemisphere was in April at Hamilton’s Fraser High and now Wellington Musical Theatre has brought it to the capital.

As the show is clearly designed for the 8- to-14-year-old market it was a bit disconcerting for most of the audience, who were obviously very much older, to be told by the show’s sponsor, whose representative introduced the show and told us that her mother was in the audience, to cheer, clap, laugh, and sing-along to our favourite tunes.

The sing-along not surprisingly wasn’t a success and laughter failed to materialize but there was plenty of cheering and clapping as the inexhaustible energy, enthusiasm and talent of the entire cast carried us over the weakest of jokes and through the boringly predictable plot (cell phones feature a lot) about the basket ball jocks of East High not wanting to appear in a neo-feminist musical version of Romeo and Juliet.

Director Murray Lynch, who also designed the simple, highly effective glossy photograph settings for the twenty scene changes, and Leigh Evans, who choreographed and staged the musical numbers, have forged a tightly disciplined cast who clearly enjoy every second of what they do on stage. They are led by Michael Whalley as the basketball star Troy and Greer Samuel as the brainy Gabriella with professional skill and poise.

As a friend said to me at the interval, with such all-round talent on stage the future of musical theatre is in very safe hands – just a pity there wasn’t stronger material for them to work with and numbers all as good as the one (the highlight for me) in which nine basketball players, each bouncing a basketball, skillfully dance and sing Get’cha Head in the Game. 


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Prepubescent fantasy fulfilment

Review by John Smythe 21st May 2007

It started life as a made-for-TV movie for the Disney Channel, released in the USA in January 2006. "The time was right," a programme note tells us, "to give today’s youth a musical of their own, with characters they could relate to singing infectious pop songs – and in the best Disney tradition, make it light, bubbly and clean."

Apparently surprised when it shot to the top of the ratings – and went on to win an Emmy Award – Disney released a sing-along DVD, took it on a concert tour with stars of the movie, and turned it into a stage musical which opened in July 06 with a brand new cast. Next High School Musical: The Ice Tour is scheduled to open 31 August in Florida.

While Wellington Musical Theatre was probably not surprised to see advance bookings for their production exceed the record set by their 1994 production of Les Miserables (way at the other end of the stage musical spectrum), they are – I am told – surprised to discover the key demographic of those flocking is primary school children and their mums. (I have come to the 3rd performance, 4pm on Sunday, and it’s certainly true of this audience.)

But everything about the show is prepubescent. The key life lesson, about balancing personal wants and needs against those of siblings, family, friends, community – self v others – is certainly one that starts early in life. And yes, it does remain a constantly relevant quest, forever. But the more complex aspects of emotional turmoil and mental anguish that beset most teenagers – we’re talking senior high school students in this show – are absent. The venerable West Side Story (1957) and even Grease (1972 but set in 1959) get much closer to those truths.

Actually it could be argued that High School Musical stole the link with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet from West Side Story, only to trivialise it totally, and has thoroughly plundered the opening premise of Grease, regarding how the lead characters meet on vacation but find their mutual attraction hampered at school by their divergent peer group allegiances.

Gabriella Montez is a maths and science ‘brainiac’ while Troy Bolton is a basketball sports jock. Their moment of perfect harmony happened through an accidental meeting of karaoke microphones on New Years Eve. But now play-maker Troy has got his Wild Cats team – and the expectations of his coach/ father – to consider, while the girls need Gabriella for their Scholastic Decathlon Team.

The status quo of separate groups is disrupted by auditions for Juliet and Romeo, a happy ending musical rewrite of R&J, written and composed by geeky whiz-kid Kelsie and to be directed by passionate drama teacher Ms Darbus (who sets animal improv exercises in detention). When Gabriella arrives late to audition and has no one to sing with, Troy comes to the rescue …

Of course the adults are authoritarian and intolerant but the plot’s real ‘baddies’ are twin brother and sister Sharpay (8 minutes older and therefore the boss) and Ryan, president and vice-president respectively of the drama club and undisputed – until now – stars of any show going.

Against Sharpay and Ryan’s devious machinations to repel the new threats to their supremacy, the combined forces of the modern imperatives for success – ‘be yourself’, ‘you can do anything’, diversity is cool’, ‘we have it all, individually and together’ – suddenly espoused by their status-quo-busting, self-discovering peers, conspire to win Grabriella and Troy the lead roles. Meanwhile, and almost simultaneously, they personally win the Big Game and the Science Decathlon for their teams. Yeah right. If that’s not a prepubescent fantasy, what is?

Of course the principle of discovering and developing your own self-fulfilling talents, and maintaining match fitness in order to contribute whole-heatedly to the team, is at the very heart of any good musical theatre production. High School Musical must be huge fun to do and the great value of it for Wellington Musical Theatre is it brings a whole new generation of musical theatre talent to the forefront.  

Director Murray Lynch, Musical Director Kate Marshall and Choreographer Leigh Evans, also credited with Musical Staging, co-ordinate the skills of 36 mostly young performing artists to produce an energetic, dynamic, live theatre spectacle that culminates in a literally explosive climax replete with fireworks and glitter.

Michael Whalley and Greer Samuel find the vulnerable humanity on Troy and Gabrielle. There is idiosyncratic detail to be observed in the individual characterisations of their friends – Eva Prowse (Taylor), Tala Moemai (Chad), Katrina Ladd (Kelsi) and Sharn Te Pou (Zeke).

While Sharpay (Kristy Witchelo) finds no opportunity for pathos, she does deign to entertain the romantic aspirations of cuisine-geek Zeke. Meanwhile Ryan (Sam Benton) has broken free to make a stand for truth above personal ambition. I always think it’s better when the baddies engage the empathy of their audience, both as they weave their devious plans and when they get their come-uppance, and suspect it’s a failing of the show, rather than the production, that this dimension is absent.

As Jack the student radio announcer, Mitchell Barlow provides linking scene transitions that aim to replace the narrative elements that were visually apparent in the film. It’s a clumsy device that needs revising to give the character more of a story in his own right.

Somewhat reprising their roles in the WMT production of Grease (2004), Jane McKenna plays Ms Darbus and Steve Joll plays Coach Bolton. More than with anyone else, I found myself asking why Ms Darbus had to shout all the time when she had a mic and had every opportunity to modulate her voice through a range of emotions.

The full cast of principals, support roles and chorus jocks, brainiacs, thespians and cheerleaders combine to perform the big numbers with great skill and infectious energy. By comparison it is the more personal, intimate moments that fare less well.

Working with a pre-recorded score – in this case overblown with the be-bop electronica so common to pre-teen pop music – means the challenge of recreating each moment with emotional truth is greater than usual. A live conductor facilitating symbiotic communication between the live performers and live musicians might well have given this production greater emotional depth and texture.

The Murray Lynch-designed set involves sliding panels and wheeled ramps and furniture that make for fluid scene changes. I’m not sure, however, if the strangely disproportionate sizes of the otherwise photographically realistic books in bookshelves, lockers, gym windows, etc. is intended.

Following the spectacular curtain-call finale, we are subjected to the ‘High School Musical Megamix’, which may intended as an audience sing-along opportunity, or a promo for CD sales and other merchandising spin-offs. Whatever. It rather dulled the shine for me.

Obviously High School Musical is destined for production in schools around the country for many years to come. Now that we have had the obligatory replica of the American original, I sincerely hope such productions will be free to be true to ideals espoused in the story – i.e.  by relocating it in a New Zealand high school and using their own voices and cultural reference in their quest for authenticity.

It would, of course, be absurd if all we saw was New Zealand school pupils pretending to be Americans discovering the value of being themselves while embracing diversity …


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