Dev Halls’ High School Musical is an earnest love letter to the franchise
On Friday 25th February Devonshire Hall and the LUU Backstage Society concluded their three day run of ‘High School Musical on Stage!’, directed by Jess Simmons and based on the original High School Musical film. The adaptation follows the same course as the film, focusing on American high schoolers torn between the expectations placed on them by their cliques and their creative desires hidden within.
Immediately noticeable is the love that both audience and production have for the High School Musical property. The mania surrounding the 2006 made-for-TV film had to be experienced to be understood, which this production benefits from due to the cast and crew being made up entirely of first year students. The audience was immersed from the get-go, with the customary phones-off announcement concluded with “What team?”, and the audience’s emphatic roar of “Wildcats!”, highlighting just how embedded the film is in early Gen Z culture; I was sat alone and the Wildcat reflex took over me nonetheless. Although the American accents of almost every character left something to be desired, they weren’t especially distracting and almost complimented the endearingly cheesy nature of the franchise. The transitions were seamless, the sets charming and the lighting appropriately utilised throughout.
The musical is instantly set apart from the film, with Sean Lomas as Troy singing the songs himself, which is more than can be said for Zac Efron in the first film. Lomas especially impressed when allowed to sing in a higher vocal range than songs like ‘Get’cha Head in the Game’ allow, and shone in ‘What I’ve Been Looking For’. The highlight of Elise McCracken’s consistent performance was in her solo, ‘When There Was Me and You’, with her vocal flourishes impressing throughout.
Any High School Musical fan will understand that the true star is Sharpay. She was played adeptly by Caitlin Lister who completely understood the assignment with all the sass and drama expected from the character matched with her own powerful, belting voice that outshone Ashley Tisdale’s by a mile. Josh King provides a refreshingly tortured aspect to Ryan, an oft overlooked character who finds solace only in his (perfectly executed) jazz squares. Maisy Dodd beautifully dominated the stage with her rendition of Ms Darbus, bringing all of the overacting and theatrics expected of her character and delighting the audience with nods to the romantic chemistry between herself and Coach Bolton (Uma Dell).
The musical standout of the production was certainly ‘Stick to the Status Quo’, with the stage being fully utilised and eliciting a wonderful audience response. Especially notable was the surprisingly powerful verse by Sam Bolles as Zeke and the relentless ‘popping and locking’ of Charlotte Haren as Martha. The live band performed stunningly all night, with the inclusion of a full brass section serving to highlight the dedication of those behind the production.
High School Musical on Stage! proved to be an earnest love letter to the franchise, the inclusion of brick phones and chunky laptops showing an eye for detail and a level of care and passion that felt completely natural for a production led by those who grew up on High School Musical. Knowing that there is also a production of High School Musical 2: On Stage! in existence, one can only hope that the talented Backstage Society will cast their eyes towards a sequel.