Without question, the 90-minute intermissionless musical -- which has changed considerably since its 2006 Los Angeles debut (in which Horn did not participate) -- undeniably looks and sounds lively. Nevertheless, it may also impress some patrons as little more than a bald-faced attempt to cash in on the High School Musical phenomenon.
The story concerns Manhattan-born Evan Goldman (Graham Phillips, with Corey J. Snide taking over the Saturday night performances), who is plucked from his native island and plunked down in supposedly rustic Appleton, Indiana. Since it's 2008, most of the other 13-year-olds Evan meets are as technology-wise and sexually-awakened as the precocious New Yorkers he's left behind, although they're not quite as frighteningly advanced as the characters in Thirteen, the similarly titled 2005 flick.
As in that movie, there's a beautiful but devious girl, Lucy (Elizabeth Egan Gillies), on hand to cause trouble. She is only one of the stock characters in the school's in-crowd, led by blockhead blond quarterback Brett (Eric M. Nelsen) and head cheerleader Kendra (Delaney Moro), that Evan needs to impress as he tries disparate and desperate ways to sell his upcoming bar mitzvah party to these not necessarily Jewish-friendly kids. While courting these two and their clique, however, Evan foolishly alienates sincere and likable classroom pariahs Patrice (Allie Trimm) and muscularly-degenerative Archie (Aaron Simon Gross).
Versatile as they come in the songwriting arena, Brown -- whose previous musicals include Songs For a New World, Parade, and The Last 5 Years -- can adroitly and quickly shift mental gears from constructing rock blasts to cabaret arias to power ballads. He especially flaunts his skill at capturing the pangs of hormone explosion in a funny blues-spoof quartet called "Bad Bad News" and then shows convincing teenaged charm on the sweet "Tell Her." Both that song and "If That's What It Is" could even step out to the adult world with a less kid-oriented word or two changed.
Choreographer Christopher Gattelli -- whose savvy enhances Altar Boyz and the current South Pacific revival -- has assessed the troupe's dancing abilities and seen to it that they're perfectly showcased in well-drilled number after well-drilled number. That includes the exuberant post-curtain-call offering, "Brand New You," that reiterates the youthful spirit and humor that has been on display from the get-go. Just call these young performers marvelously footloose.
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