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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A performance that's not to be missed

By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Special to The Advertiser

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

From left: Jason Loo, Madison Eror, Kyle McCraw, Jana Souza, Colby Benson and Vincent Fitzgerald star in "High School Musical," running now through Dec. 6 at the Richardson Theatre, Fort Shafter.

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Richardson Theatre, Fort Shafter

7:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, through Dec. 6

Tickets: $15-$20

438-4480, www.armytheatre.com

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The Disney musical that spawned a franchise is now in its first O'ahu non-school production by Army Community Theatre at Fort Shafter. Its energy and honesty may change your attitude about kids on stage.

"High School Musical" debuted in 2006 and quickly became the most successful movie produced by the Disney Channel. "HM2" followed in 2007 and "HM3" opened in theaters last month and became the highest-grossing ($80 million) movie musical in its first weekend. "HM4" is said to be in the works.

The 2006 stage version, directed for Army Community Theatre by Coco Wiel, clearly demonstrates the show's appeal to youngsters facing a high school experience. Its themes of self-discovery, peer pressure and mutual support are treated in wholesome and squeaky-clean Disney style. Its positive resolution while largely fantasy is definitely uplifting.

Mature audiences may groan at the naive and simplistic plot, and find the music too loud, too repetitive and too often bleating. But the show strikes directly at the romantic 12-year-old female heart and from that perspective gushes showers of hearts and flowers.

The central conflict arises when the leads must choose between final call-backs for the school musical, the championship basketball game and the math competition all of which are stubbornly scheduled for the same time.

The show being what it is, congratulations go to director Wiel for staging it with enthusiasm, energy and very little nonsense. Her large high-school-age cast acquits itself with style and self-assurance.

The leads Kyle McCraw as Troy Bolton, captain of the basketball team, and Jana Souza as Gabriella Montez, shy new math whiz are unassuming, sincere and right on character. Their voices blend well in the duets, and their representation of young love is hesitant and genuine.

Colby Benson has the right soap-opera fangs as Sharpay, president of the drama club, and Vincent Fitzgerald does a neat character about-face as her beleaguered brother.

Supporting roles are true to type and done with enough exaggeration to make a point, but not with so much as to be offensive.

The show's ensemble numbers are particularly powerful, indicating that the chorus has worked its tails off in rehearsal.

Choreography by Grace Bell and Philip Amer Kelley features intricate movement patterns that give all the dancers a shot at strutting their best stuff in the front row. Cheerleading routines and basketball drills blend with the dance steps to create an organic whole.

When the entire cast is churning away in the long finale, the stage is a mass of discipline and excitement with all the exuberance of a pep rally.

Musical director Peter Rucco gets plenty of volume from his large cast and small orchestra. Microphones are turned up high but well-blended. A careful mix of red and white costumes and a simple, but effective proscenium within a proscenium set add to the stage picture.

Joseph T. Rozmiarek has been reviewing theater since 1973.