As he did for the first installment, director and choreographer Barry Ivan has cast Addi McDaniel and David Nathan Perlow as stalwart sweethearts Gabriella and Troy, aka the Brain and the Jock, respectively. Although in this script, the Pain and the Schlock might be more apropos. Gabriella nags Troy not to succumb to the blandishments of upward mobility -- the gang has secured summer jobs at the Lava Springs Country Club -- while he works his way into a tizzy of indecision, requiring the intervention of the "voices in Troy's head." Moreover, McDaniel and Perlow betray not the slightest scintilla of chemistry; but that's perhaps by design. The moment they come close to a clinch (on a picnic blanket on a golf course), Gabriella skitters off, teasing "Tag, you're it!"
Indeed, among these ultra-wholesome, soon-to-be high-school seniors, sex and drugs have yet to rear their problematic heads. As for rock-and-roll, the music (credited to no fewer than a dozen songwriters) might as well be computer-generated. Ivan's choreography tries - and fails - to lift the dance numbers beyond frantic cliché. And the kids' would-be Hip Hop lingo is grievously passé.
Ivan has also once again cast Kate Rockwell as mean girl Sharpay, and the actress appears content to let her scrupulously straight, Palin-poufed blonde locks do all the acting. Hair-tossing and superior strut aside, her alpha girl simply lacks bite. (It hardly helps that Wade Laboissonniere's costuming for Sharpay and her coterie of Sharpettes looks more like resort wear for Miami matrons.)
Fortunately, a couple of performers show enough élan to rise above the relentlessly peppy melee and at least establish the rudiments of a character. As Martha, Emily Walton is required to spout the Albuquerque version of street talk -- "Let's throw down some slickness!" -- but manages to come off game and sweet. Best of all, as Sharpay's bulldozed younger brother, Ryan, Christopher Brian Williams acts, dances, and sings with what appears to be real feeling, adding some welcome poignancy to this otherwise mundane exercise.