Pulling off the wild good times that are High School Musical 2 is serious business.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
S ave for a lone dimmed light in the foyer, the entrance to the theatre stands dark. Besides an occasional distant engine, the street is silent. From the middle of the dark and deserted Monte Verde in Carmel, you’d never guess what intense activity is building inside of the Golden Bough Playhouse.
But once inside the main hall, the commotion is relentless. Young actors and actresses clad in red and white cheerleading gear and basketball jerseys spill from seemingly everywhere onto the stage. Still more actors, singers, and dancers crowd the aisles and the backstage areas. Entire scenes run from beginning to end. Dance moves are executed, lines are delivered, and songs are sung. It’s High School Musical fever!
But something seems amiss.
While Zac Efron’s baby blues helped catapult the Disney franchise to popularity, the all-important element of fun has kept kids (and adults) coming back for more. Excluding the few bits of melodrama thrown in for moral value, everything about HSM screams unapologetic fun. Consequently, it feels slightly shocking to discover that nobody appears to be having any, except when the script calls for it – when the musical numbers are rehearsed, the expected East High Wildcat energy bounces off the walls, but they fizzle to almost nothing when the director yells “Cut!” There are no off-stage high jinks, muffled giggling, or even excited chatter. Instead, the actors are supremely focused, switching from happy Wildcat to attentive actor in a moment. While a Comcast videographer shoots the rehearsal, the cast, ranging from 16 to 21, maintains a professional atmosphere.
The message is clear: Having High School Musical-sized fun is hard work.
The cast and crew has already toiled at All Saints Episcopal Church in Carmel for six weeks before setting foot in their own venue. It certainly shows – putting in four hours a day over those weeks has allowed the aspiring actors to concentrate more on the tone, style, and execution rather than remembering their actual lines.
Our local version of Sharpay Evans is perfectly bratty, utilizing the furrow of her brow and fake smile with aplomb. And Troy and Gabriella’s innocent relationship enjoys real chemistry thanks to their sincere deliveries, beaming smiles and (age appropriate) overly sweet hand-holding.
The dance numbers look more demanding than the dramatic scenes. Choreographer Susan Cable brings the best elements of the movie’s hip-hop tinged modern choreography to life while adding her own spin. The former head of the Santa Catalina School of Dance found the cast up to the challenge. “I’m not easy to please,” she says, “but this cast works hard and is up to the challenge.”
Cable runs through dance numbers quickly, teaching three or four eight-counts at a time, until a number is complete. After learning a dance in a day or so, the group spends the following rehearsal dates tidying up technical errors.
The kids contribute more than sweat: Three dancers from local troupe Rhythmic Flow designed a breakout piece during “Work This Out,” the play’s most spirited song and dance number. The group’s founder, Chris Marcos, enjoyed every minute of it. “I always wanted to get on stage and sing,” he says.
Moorer took on more work so more students could participate, deciding to cast two sets of Wildcats from high schools and colleges from all over the county and as far away as L.A. Of note is Kenny Neely, a tall, lanky actor who is double cast in two major roles as Troy Bolton and Ryan Evans. While perfectly suited as Ryan (in both execution and blondeness), his portrayal of Troy is a tad nicer than Efron’s. Daniel Renfer, also cast as Troy Bolton, has the stature and brown locks of the aforementioned heartthrob, but with a more masculine delivery. Actress Bri Slama nails the Queen Bee attitude of Sharpay Evans, while fellow Sharpay actress Sydney Stampher contributes an almost scientific understanding of the facial expressions of an over-indulged brat. The actresses portraying Gabriella are strikingly similar to original actress Vanessa Hudgens – cute and brunette. Disney would be proud.
Two days later, an interesting thing becomes apparent at the week’s final rehearsal. Instead of a sea of red and white, jeans, hoodies and legwarmers greets the eye. The seriousness has faded – actors and actresses hug between takes; when lines are flubbed, laughter erupts. Kids whisper offstage and stage manager’s shush offstage actors.
The change makes sense – much of the hard work is over, and the Wildcats look ready to really have some fun.