Stage: High School Musical – Playhouse Drama theatre, Durban
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
HARD to believe that High School Musical premiered as a Disney Channel original movie musical as long ago as 2006, after which it went on to spawn two film sequels and a stage production – and, of course, made stars of its young leads, Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens.
I have to say right up front that it does not rate as the greatest of stage musicals in my book, being a predictable, rather laboured tale of young love and friendship; about rivalry and pushing through peer pressure. It’s a story that borrows from Grease and Romeo and Juliet, and the songs, give or take some catchy moments, are pretty ordinary, a little overproduced at times.
Perhaps my lack of love for the show also stems from the fact that my son, a teenager when the film first appeared, played the soundtrack and DVD so much – so very, very, very much – it hurt.
That all said, this touring production from Northcliff High School, which must be highly commended for touring its annual musical to Durban’s Playhouse Drama stage every June, is enjoyable, albeit not in the same league as the school’s Sister Act, staged last year, and even better Spamalot, presented in 2017.
It is directed and produced, as usual, by hard-working Nick Jourdan, who has been involved with the Northcliff productions for decades, and has toured 21 of them to Durban. He has unveiled and nurtured some superb talent over the years, and once again must win lavish applause for the time and talent he gives to fostering the arts among youth.
Among those whom Nick has taken under his wing over the years is Carmen Pretorius, who, interestingly, starred in the touring, South African professional production of High School Musical after finishing at Northcliff and winning a local TV reality show that sought leads for the show.
Pretorius, of course, has gone on to greater things, having recently won a Naledi Award for her Maria in The Sound of Music. She is currently touring the world as Roxy Hart in Chicago.
Northcliff High School’s other standout alumini, of course, have included Jonathan Roxmouth and Samantha Peo – he having recently left Chicago to tour globally as the lead in Phantom of the Opera, while Peo is playing Velma Kelly in the world touring production of Chicago.
Carmen Pretorius played shy, brainy, transfer student Gabriella Montez in High School Musical, a role filled for the Northcliff production by sweet Grade 12 pupil Shannon Howard.
Gabriella’s love interest is basketball team captain Troy Bolton (confident Grade 12 pupil Joshua Randall), a guy she bumps into again at her new school after first meeting him during a ski lodge holiday, when the two performed karaoke together.
The plot, liberally laced with original pop songs and dance, centres on Troy and Gabriella slowly reconnecting at school, while pushing through the expectations of their respective cliques and any attempts to thwart their dreams.
Troy and Gabriella, through their mutual love of singing and via auditioning for their high school musical – much to the chagrine of the pretentious Evans showbiz siblings, Ryan (Tristan Mortimer) and Sharpay (Tyla Puzey) – eventually find happiness and inspire others not to “stick to the status quo”.
One could quibble about some wooden moments, a few missed notes and the need for a lot more oomph in dance routines (with the exception of a very well delivered Get’cha Head in the Game, which has the boys performing with basketballs), but for all this, the production remains fun.
It is probably unfair to single out performances in a piece involving more than 30 young performers, but I can’t resist offering back-slaps to the confident and articulate Tiana de Abreu, as drama teacher Ms Darbus; charming Tristan Mortimer, as the showy and mischievous Ryan; a radiant Pride Mncube, as Gabriella’s pal, Taylor; and the attractive leads, who are generally in good voice.
Oh, and a special mention for Grade 8 pupil Dylan Slembrouck who, playing an earthworm (you’d better believe it!), gave me the night’s biggest laugh.
High School Musical is being staged at the Playhouse Drama theatre at 7.30 nightly until Saturday, June 22. There is an additional show at 2pm on Saturday and the final performance is at 3pm on Sunday (June 23).
Tickets cost R80 throughout for the performance tonight (June 19) and R115 (R90 for pensioners) for shows during the rest of the season.
Book at Computicket on 083 915 8000 or through the Playhouse Company Dial-A-Seat facility on (031) 369 9555