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LA Theater Review

High School Musical

Like the Disney film division, which thrives on straight-to-DVD sequels and remakes of ancient hits, Disney Theatrical Productions never lets an opportunity to repackage a successful property slip by. Catering to the hordes of teenagers who loved the Disney Channel movie on which this show is based, Disney has fashioned a faithful stage rehash of the frothy boy-meets-girl story, though juiced up with more songs, more dance numbers, and less concern with pesky dialogue to interrupt the music.

There is a simple narrative (book by David Simpatico, based on Peter Barsocchini's teleplay), vaguely recalling Romeo and Juliet. Nice-guy basketball jock Troy (John Jeffrey Martin) meets and falls in like with perky science whiz Gabriella (Arielle Jacobs), new chick on campus. Both decide to try out for the school musical, then encounter pressures from warring cliques: the basketball team, the science nerds, the drama club. The various factions threaten to tear the budding romance apart -- not helped by jealous diva Sharpay (Chandra Lee Schwartz), who's used to getting all the lead roles and co-starring with her brother, Ryan (Bobby List). But all's well that ends well, and in a Disney frolic, how could it be any other way?

Director Jeff Calhoun wisely underplays the benign adolescent crises, maintaining a cheerful tone and a brisk pace. Though the generic pop-rock songs by several songwriters blur together, choreographer Lisa Stevens whips them up into zesty production numbers, incorporating flashes of hip hop and gymnastics, highlighted by a rousing sequence at basketball practice. Martin and Jacobs are attractive and pleasant protagonists, Schwartz is an amusing villainess, and List is a fleet-footed charmer.

As the adult characters -- histrionic drama teacher Ms. Darbus and Troy's hard-driving dad, Coach Bolton -- Ellen Harvey and Ron Bohmer share a winning comic chemistry as they spar their way to inevitable romance. Design elements and music direction are capably rendered. Though my personal take on this piece is that it looks and feels like an assembly-line product -- less a new musical than a crassly calculated re-creation of a proven commodity -- the opening-night audience responded enthusiastically to the energy and felicitous spirits emanating from the stage.

Presented by Disney Theatrical Productions under the direction of Thomas Schumacher

at the Kodak Theatre, Hollywood & Highland Center, Hollywood.

Tue.-Wed. 7:30 p.m., Thu. 3 & 7:30 p.m., Fri. 7:30 p.m., Sat. 2 & 7:30 p.m., Sun. 1 & 6:30 p.m. Dec. 12-23. Also at the San Diego Civic Theatre, 1100 Third Ave., San Diego. Wed. 7:30 p.m., Thu. 2 & 7:30 p.m., Fri. 7:30 p.m., Sat. 2 & 7:30 p.m., Sun. 1 & 6:30 p.m. Dec. 26-30. (619) 570-1100 or (619) 220-8497.

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