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"It's like normal high school… except with singing and dancing"

Youtheatre winds up season with High School Musical 2

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2009-04-21


The young cast of Youtheatre’s production of High School Musical 2 all tell me the same thing when I ask too many questions about the story, or their characters, or certain scenes in the musical. Hunter Debolt, who plays pianist Kelsi Nielson, sums it up: “I don’t want to ruin what happens,” she says. “You’ll have to come see it.”

But unless you’ve been living on the moon for the last several years, you already know what happens in High School Musical 2. And you don’t even need to be familiar with the first High School Musical to figure it out. Even people without kids probably know more about it than they think they do. That’s because Disney’s High School Musical — a Disney movie first aired in 2006 — is one of those weird things that come along sometimes in the culture and become a phenomenon; there’s no real explanation for it, it just is, so give in, resistance is futile.

And above all, stop calling it cheesy. Even some of the show’s most ardent young fans know it’s cheesy. That’s part of its charm.

As you might guess, Disney’s original High School Musical is a musical about high school students and the dramas, conflicts, and politics that ensue when star jock Troy snags a part in the… well, the high school musical. Troy and his girl Gabriella must contend with snotty villainess Sharpay and her minions, queens of the drama club who are annoyed at Troy and his friends poaching on their territory. There are enough subplots involving friends, siblings, and parents to fill a Shakespeare play — in fact, High School Musical has been compared to Romeo and Juliet in the same way that, say, West Side Story and Grease are like Romeo and Juliet, except HSM keeps the singing and dancing and gets rid of the knife fights and drag races (and the actors in the movie look like they could actually be high school students).

When Youtheatre performed the stage version of High School Musical in 2007, it was one of the biggest successes in the organization’s recent history. High School Musical 2 winds up Youtheatre’s current season and takes up where the first left off, with Troy, Gabriella, and their friends hiding out from Sharpay on an ice planet…

Actually, it takes place at a country club (Lava Springs) during the summer after graduation. Troy and his friends are working there, saving up money for college; Sharpay and her Sharpettes are tanning and scheming; and (of course) the summer talent show is imminent. Conflicts and show tunes ensue. “It’s pretty much just normal high school people, except more singing and dancing,” says Kailee Blaettner, who plays cheerleader/Sharpette Cindi. “ And with all the drama amped up a little bit.”

Among the 17 million (!!!) people who watched the movie version of High School Musical 2 when it first aired on the Disney Channel in 2007 were many of the cast of the Youtheatre production. “I was one of those crazy little nerds who, when High School Musical originally came out, sat and watched it with my eight-year-old little sister,” laughs Halee Brandt, who plays the scheming Sharpay. “When I heard about the play, I said ‘sign me up!’”

Brandt doesn’t think Sharpay is all that bad, just spoiled. “She’s always gotten everything she ever wanted since she was little so she just expects that in everyday life,” Brandt says. “She just needs to come back to reality.”

But Brandt — who also played the Wicked Witch in Youtheatre’s Wizard of Oz — says it’s fun to play the “bad” character. “I like playing the villain in pretty much anything because you get to put a lot of character into the part.”

Darby Bixler, who plays Sharpette “Peaches,” agrees: “I get to be snobby and get in people’s faces,” she says. “It’s more fun to play the mean characters.” And according to Chelsi Kern (Cindi), the Sharpette’s get one of the best songs — “Fabulous” — which is, of course, all about how great they are and how great summer is going to be.

Most of the cast say they’re big fans of musicals — Andrew Sherman, who plays Sharpay’s brother Ryan, says HSM2 is his 15th musical — and in fact, many of the young actors were in the first High School Musical and are returning in different roles.

Alex Tordi is one of the exceptions. He played male lead Troy Bolton in the first play, and is reprising his role in the sequel (so is Alex Hinsky, who plays Chad Danforth). Tordi says playing Troy is a little more difficult this time around. “This show is tough on my voice,” he says. “Vocally, it’s written higher than the movie. One day, we ran through ‘Bet On It’ three times in a row, and by the end, I was having a tough time getting through it.” He adds that slowly but surely he’s gotten his voice in better shape.

Tordi, a freshman at IPFW (he was a high school senior during the production of the first HSM), says he likes the continuity of some of the actors returning for the sequel. “Having been in the first show, I think it’s cool to have so many people back, some taking on different roles.”

Dana Hart is one of those returning, but in a different role. In the first HSM, she played the quiet, unassuming Kelsi Nielson. But for HSM2, Hart plays Gabriella, the female star of the show. “I’m having a blast,” says Hart. “(Gabriella) is definitely kind of a brainiac, but she tries to be nice to everyone. She doesn’t want to cause drama; she wants to keep the peace.” And her relationship with Sharpay? “It’s like a constant cat fight,” Hart jokes.

Hart is a classically trained vocalist who hopes to study classical voice and opera when she gets to college. “The biggest difference in style is how you perform the song,” she says. “This show is pop singing and ‘belting.’ For a musical like this, you have to think less about how a song is written and more about how to sell it.”


Youtheatre presents Disney’s High School Musical 2
Arts United Center
303 East Main Street
Saturday, April 25 at 2:00 and 5:30 pm
Sunday April 26, at 2:00pm
Tickets: $15.00 – adults and students
Box Office opens Monday, April 20. Call (260) 422-4226 noon – 4pm

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