This is the part of the review where I typically write a short synopsis of the story. I feel it often helps people to understand what they might be letting themselves in for if they buy a ticket. But it’s High School Musical. You know what happens. If you’re the kind of person who reads these drama reviews then you know what happens. It is a timeless classic of heartbreak and joy. The modern Romeo and Juliet. But is it good enough that you should be soaring and flying up to Mary’s any time soon to see it?
Yeah I’d say so.
The stage, naturally, is a basketball court built entirely from carefully placed lines of masking tape and we, the audience, are the onlookers filling the bleachers on either side. The best thing about the cast is their high energy, as the play starts out immediately with the first great tune of many. Everyone was very clearly enjoying it, which is understandable when you have a mix of iconic tunes and some really solid choreography, courtesy of Siobhan Gardiner. Accompanying the actors throughout every song was also an excellent live band who we could probably consider to be the playmakers of the show and its many excellent songs.
Ultimately, the play is a good cheesy musical, and it’s funny. And it wouldn’t have been nearly as cheesy or funny without some of the performances from the actors. The dynamic between Eleanor Storey, as Mrs Darbus the dramatic head of drama, and Ellie Barrie, as Coach Bolton, was a great source of amusing conflict. Eleanor makes a great drama teacher, with a performance as over the top as it needed to be and Ellie’s incredible accent is only the tip of the competitive, sports-obsessed iceberg that is Coach Bolton. And, of course, it would be a sin to not mention the play’s most iconic duo – Ryan and Sharpay. Dylan Hicks, playing Ryan, is the perfect sidekick to Ellie Nixon, the extravagant Sharpay. One great moment of the play is when Sharpay reveals slightly more about her inner thoughts and feelings, her trials and tribulations at high school. Touchingly, we learn that all she really wants is to confirm her position in the world, to know that whatever comes her way, she is still somebody. Still a star. For her Troy and Gabriella are more than just aspiring performers, they are an existential threat to the very heart of who she is. Because in this cruel, cruel world of high school, you are defined, not by who you are, not by the content of your character, but by how you fit in. How you stay in line, how you tick the boxes, how you stick to the status quo. Sharpay did not make these laws but she is bound by them. Perhaps, if she had the confidence of the play’s protagonists, she and Ryan could have been the one to break the school’s rigid and unwavering system. Poignantly she is not strong enough to be the one to break down these constricting social barriers, but in this revelation it becomes clear to us, the viewers, that Sharpay is not some cliche, evil villain. If Troy is the chosen one, the hero, the Harry Potter to this Alburqueque-ian Hogwarts, then Sharpay is not some vile Voldemort but a sweet and sympathetic Neville Longbottom and on these grounds I am proud to say it – I believe in the true love that is Troypay!
Troy and Gabriella, Sharpay and Ryan, all four have a common enemy, the unyielding clique system of their school but Sharpay lacks the emotional resilience to fight it alone. Why is this? Well, as noted in one of the most sage and insightful Durfess posts of our times – no one has it harder than rich kids. The emotional strain of having parents away at work all the time causes a level of unique level of harm to their offspring, making them the true victims in society (Smart but anonymous Durham Student, 2019). And so the ultimate tragedy of Sharpay’s life becomes clear. She is not a monster. She is a frightened little girl desperately clinging to her identity, her last shred of self-worth and to place the final nail in her coffin she is plagued by the undeniable worst kind of money problems a family can have. Too much money. Truly, hath no greater sorrows ever been put upon a character. Oedipus eat your heart out.
Now that I’ve gotten a bit weird and hit the minimum acceptable word count, it’s a good time to get back on track. I should point out that the end of the year is never the best time to put on a big old, singing and dancing musical. Points here and there were clearly lacking in polish, whether that be through slight uncertainty in the dance numbers or an occasional stumbling over lines. But given the time span these guys have had after exams to put this show on they should absolutely be proud of what they’ve done.
There were probably always going to be issues. For example, the balance of sound coming through microphones fluctuated from having mild feedback to being too mild to actually hear peoples’ lines but just like watching Shakespeare, you don’t come along to meticulously understand every line of dialogue.
The appeal is the vibe, the hilarity and the pure cheesy nostalgia of it all. And the stars of the show, Keir Mulcahey and Annie Lucas, Troy and Gabriella were precisely that – stars. The chemistry between the pair was pitch perfect and their songs likewise. And finally, it’s at least worth it to go and see Ellie Nixon’s Sharpay strutting her most fabulous stuff in those high heels. Now that’s show biz.