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Book by David Simpatico
Uncle Randy Productions
Centennial Theatre
North Vancouver
Nov. 6-18
604-984-4484 or 604-980-7942

(This is Jerry’s review of the production from November.)

It feels like a Britney Spears concert before Britney Went Bad.  Centennial Theatre is packed to the rafters with kids, average age maybe 12, vibrating with excitement. The screaming starts as the lights go down, before anyone even hits the stage. During intermission they’ll race each other up and down the aisles.

This is no ordinary night in the theatre.  High School Musical, the TV movie, has become a phenomenon. The stage version, Disney’s High School Musical, is phenomenal in its own way.  Not so much the show but the experience.

As you might expect from the Disney moniker, it’s a squeaky clean-cut take on high school kids and their world—sports, cell phones, conformity, everything but sex.  Add a large dose of Uncle Randy Productions’ youthful high-octane musical theatre energy, plus an audience that knows the story, characters and songs.  Rock out with Courtenay Ennis’ seven-piece band.  Start screaming.

East High is divided into three camps: the jocks, led by basketball star Troy (Dane Szohner), the brainiacs, whose latest recruit is the new girl in school, Gabriella (Elicia Mackenzie), and the thespians under the direction of divaesque Ms. Darbus (Sylvia Zaradic).  Stuck-up Sharpay (Amanda Williamson) and her brother Ryan (Brandyn Eddy) have always played the leads in the school shows.  But when Troy and Gabriella discover a love for singing, and for each other, watch out! 

Will Troy really sacrifice playing in the big game for singing in a show?  And if he does, will his dad, the coach (Stephen Atkins), have a coronary? Who will get the lead roles? Which girl will get which boy? And will anyone ever kiss?

The strengths of this production, co-directed by Richard Berg and Roger Haskett, are found in the big ensemble numbers where the stage is full of attractive kids moving, dancing and singing.  The dancing is great, the singing not so much. But in the exciting choral numbers—“Get’cha Head in the Game,” “Stick to the Status Quo”—it doesn’t really matter.

As with so many Uncle Randy shows, choreographer Shelley Stewart Hunt is one of the real stars.  She gets help from co-choreographer Vincent Tong who gives us a few tantalizing tastes of his own incredible break-dancing.

A couple of other performers really stood out for me.  Ryan has terrific presence as Eddy and Mackenzie skillfully handles Gabriella’s songs. But everyone here can dance and it’s a treat to watch.  George Dart’s attractive set and Robert Sondergaard’s flashy lighting enhance the visual experience.

But mostly it’s about that energy, in the audience as much as on the stage.

Jerry Wasserman