Review: High School Musical

By John Nathan, July 11, 2008
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Hammersmith Apollo, London W6

As I took my seat in a row of six-year-olds dressed as cheerleaders, something told me I was probably not a member of this show’s target audience. The last time I felt this conspicuous I was the lone bloke in an auditorium filled with women in late middle age. We were watching Menopause The Musical. They seemed to wonder why I was there. So did these cheerleaders — and their parents.

The sideways glances subsided though when this bouncy Disney-produced musical got underway. It started life as a hit movie for the corporation’s TV channel and is set in an American high school that is about as far away from this country’s divisive mix of state, private and faith schools as it is possible to get. Now there are touring productions spreading across the world faster than bird flu.

Part-Grease and part-Fame — only with added texting — High School Musical is about a basketball hero called Troy who falls for the academic (or “brainiac”) Gabriella. These two would be great in the school musical, Juliet and Romeo, if only everyone would leave them alone. But there is this blonde bimbo called Sharpay who wants to play Juliet, fancies Troy and plots to break up the happy couple. And they come under even more pressure from their peers. Saying no to peer pressure is the show’s admirable main message, right behind the one that says you are nobody unless you have a mobile phone.

If this musical were confectionary, it would be bubblegum. It is sickly sweet, and about as nutritious, and there is lots of pink. But in the great American way of these things, Jeff Calhoun’s production features well-drilled dance numbers, the score is pretty good and the romantic leads (Mark Evans and Claire-Marie Hall) have terrific voices. Apart from some smitten tweenies screaming “we love you Troy” every time the music stopped, the show has enough energy to keep hold of the shortest attention span. Just take someone from the target audience and you will be fine. (Tel: 08448 444 748)

Last updated: 2:34pm, July 10 2008