Riverside Center Dinner Theater presents Disney’s High School Musical Jr. as part of their Children’s “Lunch ‘n Show” musical theater program. With a book by David Simpatico and music arrangements and adaptation by Bryan Louiselle, Riverside offers a condensed version of the smash-hit Disney Channel Original Movie written by Peter Barsocchini, while staying true to the catchy music that captivated a young generation. Jason Michael directs this musical production.
As the stage is shared regularly with Riverside’s main stage productions, the majority of the show is performed with little or no set at all, with the exception of a large balcony covered in ivy used for certain scenes. Set Designers Curtis Craddock and Jason Michael do provide larger props like lockers and a basketball hoop which are wheeled on and offstage at times, but do little to distract from the stark black backdrop, resulting an effect that is somewhat lacking. However, this is a show that showcases singing and dancing, and that is where the audience’s attention ultimately rests. Lighting Designer Nicky Mahon focuses on certain moments with a spotlight, and Costumer Amanda Miller uses cheerleading and basketball uniforms to capture the High School atmosphere. Character personalities are also shown well in costumes, with the ultra-glamorous Sharpay sporting sparkles, glitter, and cheetah print, and her modest and unwilling rival Gabriella in far less glitzy attire.
Parents, chances are that the movie High School Musical has been playing on an endless loop in your house if your child is a fan, and are probably more familiar with the plot than you are comfortable to admit—but on the chance that you are not, the main lesson of this musical is to simply be yourself. When star jock Troy Bolton (Adam Workman) discovers a newfound love of singing alongside a new student and mathlete Gabriella Montez (Adelyne Anderson), feathers are ruffled in every direction. Drama club president Sharpay Evans (Stephany Glenn) feels that her territory is being threatened, and Troy’s teammates feel that they are losing their star player to another activity, as well as Gabriella’s math team. Tension builds, and both Troy and Gabriella are met with pressure to stay within the confines of their respective stereotypes — to the point where some even plot schemes against them! Will these students buckle under the stress, or is their eagerness to pursue different paths inspiring…and maybe even contagious?
The heart of this production is the song-and dance routines, choreographed by Mary Anne Furey and Anthony Williams. Troy and his teammates incorporate basketballs into their dance routine in the enjoyable song, “Get’cha Head in the Game,” and the energetic “Stick to the Status Quo” has the stage filled so much activity, it’s hard to decide where to look! As in the movie, the characters are a bit exaggerated and one-dimensional (Sharpay is positively waspish, and Gabriella saccharinely sweet), but the songs are infectious, and the message, genuine. I expect I’ll still be humming “Bop to the Top” a good week after I’ve seen the show!
While some of the vocals could definitely use some polishing, the overall experience was a fun one. Standout performances came from the supporting cast, most noticeably Kendric Walpole as the love-struck Zeke Baylor and Analisa Wall as competitive Mathlete Taylor McKessie. The children in the audience were thoroughly engaged and all seemed to have a great time watching their favorite songs being performed live. Give the DVD a rest and bring your child to see their favorite show in person!
Running Time: 70 minutes, without an intermission.
Disney’s High School Musical Jr. plays through January 26, 2013 at Riverside Center Dinner Theater – 95 Riverside Parkway, in Fredericksburg, VA. For tickets, call (540) 370-4300.