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Disney's High School Musical

The Paper Mill Playhouse offers a properly perky version of the teen-friendly musical. logo
Chase Peacock and Sydney Morton
in Disney's High School Musical
(© Gerry Goodstein)
When the Paper Mill Playhouse began to dig itself out of a dire financial crisis almost two years ago, it vowed to reaffirm its longstanding commitment to providing musical entertainment to families and youngsters. So it's no surprise that audience is generously applauding and screaming throughout Mark Hoebee's properly perky production of Disney's High School Musical, based on the Disney Channel's megahit movie.

Like the film (and its two super-successful sequels), the show portrays a quasi-utopian high school environment in which basketball jock and hunk Troy Bolton (Chase Peacock) and brainiac Gabriella Montez (Sydney Morton) are encouraged to stay true to themselves, challenge the status quo, and audition for East High School's winter musical -- all while falling in love.

While the film's boy-meets-girl story remains the same, much of the movie's dialogue has been replaced with short, sketch-like scenes, two new songs have been added, and pretty much every song from the film receives at least several reprises, including a lengthy "High School Musical Megamix" at the curtain call. The score, which is written by 13 different writers, is somewhat generic and devoid of character; yet many of the songs -- notably "Start of Something New," "Get'cha Head in the Game," "Stick to the Status Quo" -- are undeniably catchy. The choreography by Denis Jones achieves its best effect during the feel-good finale "We're All in This Together."

Neither Peacock nor Morton are nearly as photogenic as their film predecessors, Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens. At least, Peacock stresses Troy's all-American, alpha-male status. Unfortunately, Morton possesses the least energy of anyone in the entire large cast. Until the very end, she always appears sad and uncomfortable. But the real star here may be Bailey Hanks, the MTV contestant who won the role of Elle Woods in Broadway's Legally Blonde, who plays drama queen Sharpay Evans in a ridiculously campy fashion, embracing the character's villainous, scarily self-obsessed behavior.

For all its fluffiness, High School Musical still imparts a valuable message. At one point in the show, the outlandish drama teacher Ms. Darbus (Donna English) engages in a fight with the basketball coach (Patrick Boll) and fiercely proclaims that "these students need to be exposed to the arts by any means necessary." If that means taking the teens to a straightforward stage adaptation of a movie they've seen countless times before, so be it!

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