High School Musical

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Following the box-office success of the new movie Hairspray, the American media have been having a lively time of it lately celebrating the re-emergence of the film’s genre, the musical. But singing, as shown by American Idol, and dancing, as evidenced by almost every other popular TV-reality show, have been in the ascendant for quite some time now. The recent commentaries have been inspired by something other than a respect for historical context: High School Musical.

This scarily successful show, which began as a 2006 Disney Channel movie and soon spawned a DVD, a CD and an arena-concert tour, has at last become a more standard-issue stage musical, which has taken up residence at the LaSalle Bank Theatre in Chicago until September 2.

Curious about Musical mania, I felt it my professional duty to catch up with the Chicago version. The plot is of the meet-cute variety. Handsome jock Troy Bolton and “brainiac” new girl Gabriella get acquainted at a karaoke night and decide that they would like to try out for their high school’s annual show.

The usual high-school girl-boy troubles ensue, leading to the first-act closing number, “Stick to the Status Quo”, in which dudes and dudettes race through the school’s cafeteria, as if to display their aerobic superiority to the cafeteria scenes in Grease.

Nothing very exciting happened in act two. It was as if all the perky young actors, under Jeff Calhoun’s frenetic direction, were husbanding their energy for the final 10 minutes, which I have to admit were tremendous: a tsunami of joy. My pre-teen enthusiastic self was restored to me, until I overheard a girl at the exit complaining that, unlike at the High School Musical concert, at this event no photos could be taken.

Middle age returned to me with a jolt, and I realised: when they start letting audience members at the legit theatre start clicking away with their digitals and their mobiles, I’m outta here.

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