Review: High School Musical. Rare Productions. Gordon Craig Theatre. Stevenage

High School Musical

Rare Productions, Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage

10th November 2022

Back in 2006, the ‘High School Musical’ franchise took the world by storm, with the success of the Disney TV Movie going on to spawn 2 sequels, various concerts, and making global superstars out of Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens.  Undoubtedly one of the main inspirations for cult TV series Glee, the musical of singing teenage sensations made musicals cool again for the 2000s generation, and it’s being performed by Rare Productions at the Gordon Craig Theatre in Stevenage this week.

Basketball team captain Troy Bolton (Cameron Richardson) and science-whizz Gabriella Montez (Emily Delacy) meet at a party on New Year’s Eve, and end up singing karaoke while looking longingly into each other’s eyes.  Gabriella ends up transferring to Troy’s school, and the connection remains obvious.  Both are keen to try out for the upcoming school musical ‘Juliet & Romeo’, written by fellow classmate Kelsi (Grace Hewitt), and co-ordinated by a frustrated Ms Darbus (Rachel Crabb).  Resentment grows as wannabe superstar Sharpay Evans (Summer Kelman) has her sights firmly on the lead role, and neither Troy’s basketball teammates or Gabriella’s science club want to lose their strongest assets to the production, forcing our leads to choose between their heads and their hearts.

There’s a reason that ‘High School Musical’ was a global megahit in its day, and that’s the strength of David Lawrence’s score, which still sounds great.  “Breaking Free”, “Start Of Something New” and “We’re All In This Together” have become guilty pleasures for many audiences over the years, and are still guaranteed to get everyone singing along.  The cast here perform the numbers with a lot of enthusiasm and you can clearly see the amount of effort that’s gone into the show.  While it’s undeniably true that the strongest voices sit with the lead performers with a few more wobbly vocals and dips in energy from the ensemble, it’s the heart of the piece that really shows.

The set looks suitably “high school” with lockers and banners, although as it remains static throughout it can feel a little flat.  Choreography is good when it’s used, but a lot of the big numbers end up with the whole cast all facing forward while they sing, and it needs a little more exciting movement throughout to make it feel more dynamic.  The cast handle the props well, particularly the numbers featuring basketballs, which could so easily go wrong.

Leading performances are good, particularly Cameron Richardson and Emily Delacy as our lovestruck heroes, really pushing on the vocal front, and also Summer Kelman standing out as the preening poser Sharpay.  Rachel Crabb is also excellent as Ms Darbus, elevating the show with her scenes.  The whole cast also need to be commended on their American accents, which are excellent throughout and certainly not always the case in amateur productions such as this one.

Fans of the original ‘High School Musical’ movie may well now have young children of their own, and so this production will be a great dose of nostalgia for them and allow them to introduce their youngsters to the world of theatre.  Rare Productions’ show is bright and fun, a little rough around the edges, but the catchy songs and likeable leads help to deliver a good time.

‘High School Musical’ runs at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage until Saturday 12th November 2022

Performance runtime 2 hours 5 minutes including interval

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