Thursday, September 13, 2007

High School Musical On Tour - Review - No, Really!

High School Musical - On Tour - The Princess of Wales Theatre - Toronto (National Tour)

Yes, yes I did. Yes I went to see the National Tour of High School Musical. And NO shame. Yes, the production is not some run of the mill slapdash touring version ready to milk the HSM wagon (yes, it's here to milk to HSM wagon but it's not slapdash), but a full out Broadway style production with full orchestra, very creatively simple (and red) sets, and some Broadway veterans heading the cast (a great Ellen Harvey as Ms. Darbus shakes off the original attitude prone school marm and shifts it to a more loving drama queen which loses some funny jibes from the original but enforces the all-loving message the show encaptures).

So was it any good? I have no shame in saying a big resounding YES. Yes it was. It wasn't a masterpiece or Spring Awakening but it was a terrific production and a LOT of fun. It was hard not to grin coming out of the theatre.
Now, be warned, as someone who has listened to the original TV movie soundtrack of High School Musical a little too many times (and my guess is anybody going to see this will have too), and has memorized every inflection and note change, things have changed. As the little girls sitting next to me noted, they changed the songs, and she didn't like it. In my view, they re-orchestrated the entire show (to you kids out there, that's like a remix but for the stage) and changed the book (story) to fit it all onto a stage, streamlining some of the story, and bringing out even more of the themes of acceptance of all (YAY! We ARE All in this together!), and made the stage version of High School Musical its' own distinctive commodity. In fact, I even want the cast recording of this (which surprisingly, they don't have yet, especially considering they have every other version of High School Musical out already) because there were some great variations of the original songs, one I didn't even recognized (but in a good way) at first and two new songs that fit perfectly into the mix.

The cast is also superb, once you get past the fact that it isn't Vanessa Hudgens or Zac Efron on stage, and that they have a less poppy sound and more Broadway style voices. The affable John Jeffrey Martin (Rocky Horror, Hairspray) plays our male lead Troy Bolton (standing a lot taller and sturdier than Zac), with Arielle Jacobs as the sweet Gabriella Montez. Obviously, these actors are probably a few years gone from actually being in high school by now, but it's the theatre and sitting from the seats, it hardly matters. Though another thing to note that NY Times' Christopher Isherwood points out hilariously in his review, that "Mr. Martin does not possess Mr. Efron’s signature floppy-swoopy hairdo.

I repeat: no floppy-swoopy hairdo on Troy. Just a perky bristle." Still, John Jeffrey Martin is still swoonworthy, if not slightly more adult and jocklike.

While some of the jokes get lost on the large stage and the acting moments are still a bit clunky and plodding at times, it's nice to see some of the characters are deepened, even without the ability of TV's closeups. A nice touch was making Ryan (Bobby List) more apparent in being gay, and though he still isn't coupled up with another boy in the end, I noticed in the background during the finale, that there is still a hint that Ryan gets his man. A nice touch for a Disney musical marketed to the mid-America masses.

Some of the dancing was great, while others didn't live up to my own (high) expectations, but as soon as the entire company would join as the chorus to songs originally meant as solos or duets, we felt the full power of live musical theatre and it made the show soar (or flying, if you want to take it into the context of the show, which at this point, I won't even explain since I'm assuming you've seen the TV-movie if you've read this far by now). Like the original TV-movie, it's simple and corny and I laughed again, not knowing if I was laughing AT the piece or with it, but I had an immensely good time, and I loved the message of accepting everybody for who they are, so really, can anybody complain about that? Apparently not even the big bad critics could. Most seemed to love it. (I kind of want to see it again now). The show is in Toronto until Sept. 23 before it continues on its National Tour in the US. Click here for my latest posting to a Video Clip link.

Most photos by Joan Marcus


Anonymous said...

Cool! You know I was waiting for the review.
I'm glad you went in there with your head high (even though you were probably surrounded by kids all around) ;-)

I emailed you with some more thoughts. :-)

Vance said...

I don't think I could have gone there without having my head high. I was the tallest person around. It was like, my sis, and about a 1000 little kids. (Oh, I did notice 2 other groups of people my age though on other sections of the theatre too. thank god!)

Liz said...

Um, I'm kind of crazy jealous. Although my TRUE dream is to see HSM on Ice. (How could it not be amazing?!) Glad it was good!

Vance said...

Oh, that's coming to Toronto in November and December (i think)! Talk about oversaturation! (I just called to enquire about whatever tickets are left for HSM during it's TO run. I just might do it again!)

Anonymous said...

Yes! High School Musical on Ice, now that's what I'm talking about.
I heard about it one time when I was driving and almost went nuts.
Unfortunately I couldn't find anyone to go with me and although I would have gone with someone, I think going alone would be too much. I don't think I can handle that.

I'll rent the DVD if it ever comes out, though, you can bet on it (oh I just realized that a made a reference to High School Musical 2 without wanting to... it's so sad that I even noticed...I need to stop listening to that CD)

Anonymous said...

Was there anyone in the show who wasnt 25??

Anonymous said...

I agree with every word you said. It was suprisingly great for something as corny as it is. I saw it down under, exactly the same show as around the world and as a musican I love the new arrangements of the song. They played around with it to make it much more of a theatrical genre in songs rather than a pop album.

Well done! I hope they bring out a cast recording too!