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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Shaftsbury Theatre      Summer 2007

Another piece of Theatre-for-people-who-don't-go-to-the-theatre, and while it's not the best of the genre, it's not a cheat.

There's no particular reason to run to see this musical, but those who are most likely to go will find what they were looking for - a simple upbeat story and lots of energetic singing and dancing.

This is, of course, the stage adaptation of the 1980 film set in New York's High School of the Performing Arts (an actual place, where the kids take all the academic courses along with intensive training in music, dance, etc.).

We follow a handful of kids through the usual small adventures and frustrations of adolescence, compounded by their artistic ambitions. Not a whole lot actually happens - a couple of romances, some career decisions and the like - but it's enough to hang an evening's songs and dances on.

Details of the plot differ from the film, with you most likely to notice the absence of the cabdriver father and the traffic-stopping dance in the street.

Except for the title number, the songs are all new, and they're serviceable enough. (The other credits are also complex - original direction by A and choreography by B recreated by C, and the like)

Though perhaps too many of the songs tend to sound like rejects from A Chorus Line, they're noisy enough for the kids to dance to, and at least one - a boy's song whose refrain 'I can't keep it down' refers as much to biological stirrings as to exuberance - has some actual wit.

Much of the acting, it must be said, is on the level you might expect from actual high school students. But the dancing, while never particularly subtle, is flashy, colourful and - importantly - frequent enough to keep the energy level high.

The musical actually ran for several years in London, closing just a few months ago to go on tour, and has returned for a limited run this summer.

The nominal stars are Ian H. Watkins and Natalie Casey as a pair of acting students, though the show is actually dominated by Desi Valentine as the illiterate dancer and Natalie Kennedy as the girl lured into the seamier side of show biz.

But all the performances are pretty generic, and if you happen to see a bunch of understudies you won't notice the difference.

Gerald Berkowitz

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