In our age of cynicism, when truth and justice fly out revolving doors and dreams are squashed like bugs, there is a certain satisfaction in watching Disney’s High School Musical, running at the Arden until Sunday Dec. 5.
Granted, the boy-meets-girl plot is a tad wispy and the pop-rock tunes at times sound precision-manufactured, but the St. Albert Children’s Theatre (SACT) cast really deliver the goods and make you believe that achieving your deepest dreams is possible.
One of the big strengths of director Janice Flower’s production is that this is not a shellacked Glee clone — that is, perfectly coiffed 30-year-olds pretending to be teenagers pretending to be Broadway stars.
This pop-rock confection is the real McCoy with teenagers playing themselves barricaded in the school culture’s varying cliques — the skateboarders, the science nerds, the math geeks, the drama divas, the cheerleaders, the jocks and the outcasts. We’ve all navigated through the pecking order in some form or other and the easy-going charm of the 37 actors makes it very relatable.
While at times the acting is a bit raw, their youthful energy strikes a spark and makes us smile. It is pure theatre, the kind with a lot of heart that rouses the audience to a standing ovation.
In this abundantly relentless musical, the sweet, longhaired Gabriella (Cynthia Hicks) meets the tall, lanky Troy (Dylan Rosychuk) during a winter vacation on the ski slopes. Away from East High’s peer pressure, they reveal a passionate side about singing and performing.
When Gabriella’s family moves to Albuquerque and they reconnect, there’s an initial discomfort. He’s the basketball team’s playmaker and she’s a whip-smart math whiz that wins science fairs. Their circle of friends don’t mesh – that is until the duo decides to audition for the school play. And that sets off a social revolution that threatens to dismantle the school’s hierarchy of cliques.
The 16 pop-rock songs, composed by 13 writers, are mostly catchy, up-tempo numbers filled with show-stopping screwball antics. Kudos to Jacqueline Herbst’s choreography that ranges from snappy court dribbling to a razzle-dazzle finale complete with cartwheels, jumps and flying leaps.
There are a number of to-watch-for performances. Rosychuk delivers the easy confidence of a popular jock and Hicks has a lovely, pure voice and personal charisma that makes immediate connections. And the chemistry between Sharpay (Sam DeChamplain), the nasty rich girl and her brother Ryan (Luc Tellier) was so alive, you couldn’t wait to see them again.
Reams of ink are often written about the leads, with smaller roles forgotten. But there were many outstanding moments created by the ensemble. Helen Fulford, as the gong-smacking firecracker drama teacher is delightful. Hayley Moorehouse as Kelsi, the geeky composer is utterly charming, Jarrett Krissa as Jack Scott, the announcer, projects an uncanny knack for comic timing while Justin Brunelle as Zeke the jock baker, oozes sweetness.
On the whole, this SACT production is more than a cluster of individual parts. It’s a tight collective effort that reminds us dreams are worth pursuing.
Disney’s High School Musical
St. Albert Children’s Theatre
Running until Sunday, Dec. 5