By: Emily Davis
Heritage Theater’s spring musical, High School Musical, kicked off with high energy and non-stop enthusiasm that failed to cease until the cast’s final bow. As a member of the lucky generation that was the franchise’s original target audience, the performance was an exceptionally revitalized blast from the past.
Performing a play adapted from a movie as fast-paced as High School Musical is significantly more challenging than a made-for-theater production. Such a challenge might explain some of the rushed choreography and dialogue that slipped through the cracks in opening night’s performance. However, the few and far between pacing problems were vastly made up for in the phenomenal singing by the play’s leads, as well as the contagious energy of the ensemble. The show seemed to really hit its musical stride in the famous duet, Breaking Free. It seemed like the cast particularly excelled in — as well as the audience particularly responded to –the more well-known musical numbers that were featured in the original movie.
Tianna Gray, a newbie to Heritage Theater, blew the audience away with her amazing voice in the role of Gabriella Montez. Gray brought out a slightly more spunky side to the normally soft and complacent character, which added some much needed dimension to the original character. Heartthrob Troy Bolton was played by Jake Phipps, who brought his A-game with great vocals and a personality perfectly aligned with the all-American wonder boy character.
The two main leads brought a lot to the stage, although somewhat separately. The award for best onstage chemistry must go to Caitlin Brennan and Parker Savage, who stole the show in their roles as sibling divas Sharpay and Ryan Evans. Such outlandish characters, demand a lot from their actors in the way of dramatic, vocal, and choreographic talent, but Brennan and Savage more than filled the characters’ bedazzled shoes.
Their drama department counterpart, the illustrious East High theater teacher, Ms. Darbus, was flawlessly played by Emily Smith with all of the dramatic hand waves and trademark thespian enthusiasm that accompanies the character. Another successful duo was found in Eli Perry and Claire Willmschen, who played Chad Danforth and Taylor McKessie. The narrator and classic nerd, Jack Scott, played by JP Best, was hilarious, as well as completely unexpected. Not found in the original movie, Jack Scott was a great character addition to move the play along, and JP Best had the perfect humor and stage presence to do it. His eventual love interest, Kelsie Neilson, the sweet piano playmaker, was portrayed to a tee by Kailee Moss.
Musicals are exponentially more enjoyable when the cast has obviously enjoyed making it with each other, and High School Musical was one of those instances; the carefully assembled ensemble shined. It’s rare that an accompaniment feels so pivotal to the story and outcome of the play. The ensemble and minor characters carried many of the heavily choreographed numbers and provided a large majority of laughs, such as the theater detention scene in which all relevant dialogue was completely dwarfed by background antics — notably cast member Chris Craddock’s Oscar-worthy portrayal of Worm.
Tech Theater did a great job with creative lighting, smooth transitions, and fantastic costume design. As someone who has watched the movie countless times, the costume designs of Jodi Craddock hit the nail on the head.
There is something very special about sitting in an audience and watching your childhood movie be played by your high school friends; there is something wonderful about how the cast managed to inspire every bit of excitement and joy that the original once did.