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 The Theatreguide.London Review

High School Musical

Hammersmith Apollo Theatre     Summer 2008 and tour

This is the stage version of the made-for-TV movie that was a surprise hit for the Disney Channel, begetting reruns, sequels, DVDs, CDs, a full clothing line, dolls, fridge magnets, etc., all adding very nicely to the Disney bank account (and as the owner of a few shares in Disney, I can't really complain).

And it's not a cheat. The kids love it, and parents will find it bearable. Say what you like about Disney - they may do it for the money, but they give value for money.

The plot is minimal even by musical comedy standards - basketball star and nerdy girl fall for each other and decide to try out for the school show, even though auditions are the same time as the science fair and Big Game.

All gets resolved, somehow generating the message that we should be who we want to be, and not succumb to peer or parental pressure.

Songs, by a long list of guys, direction by Jeff Calhoun and choreography by Lisa Stevens are all efficient at best while rarely being memorable. A dance number for the basketball team generates some energy, and there's a clever sequence that creates and sustains the sense of a split-screen effect.

Mark Evans and Claire-Marie Hall as the lovers and Rebecca Faulkenberry as the obligatory mean girl give generic performances, which are exactly what the show wants, not complicating things with any individuality.

Letitia Dean does bring some personality to the role of the kooky drama teacher, and is likely to be the one the grown-ups enjoy most.

I wanted my usual 14-year-old consultant along, but she said she was too old for this show, and indeed, parents apart, the median age of the audience is single-digit.

Many come in already wearing their Official High School Musical Cheerleader Outfits or other official gear, and all will leave clutching other Disney merchandise (I'm just alerting parents to the fact that you'll be buying more than the tickets.)

In the genre of family-friendly shows, this is nowhere near the league of Sound of Music or Joseph/Dreamcoat. It's closer in quality to Lion King or Grease (which it resembles), and much better than Buddy or Dirty Dancing.

In short, it's not a cheat. It's a decent introduction to live theatre for the 8-to-12-year-olds that it's aimed for, and if it whets an appetite that moves them on to better shows, that's an excellent bonus.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of High School Musical - Hammersmith Apollo 2008