By Heidi Sutton
When High School Musical was released as a Disney Channel Original Movie in 2006 it was an instant success and its soundtrack became the best selling album of the year. Spinoffs quickly followed with two more films, a series on Disney Plus, several stage adaptations and a novel.
Now the smash hit musical comes to life on the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts stage as High School Musical Jr., a condensed production that manages to include all of the wonderful scenes, dances and songs we have come to love.
Often described as a modern version of “Romeo and Juliet,” the show follows high school junior Gabriella Montez as she transfers to East High School the day after winter break. She tells her new friends about a boy she met at karaoke night on New Year’s Eve. Turns out he’s Troy Bolton, captain of the basketball team. The two rekindle their friendship and find that they share a common interest — the theater. They decide to audition for the school play together.
The decision causes an uproar with their friends from different cliques who try to stop them. As if that weren’t enough, Troy’s father, who is also the basketball coach, is mad at him for not having his ‘head in the game’ and Drama Club President Sharpay Evans and her twin brother Ryan set out to sabotage them as well in their quest to win the lead roles. Will Gabriella and Troy succumb to peer pressure or will they remain steadfast and follow their dreams?
Directed by Courtney Braun Murano, Michael Gualtieri as Troy and Adrienne Porti as Gabriella lead a 23-member talented cast in retelling the story. From the first musical number, “Wildcat Cheer,” with its cartwheels and pom poms, to its grand finale, “We’re All in This Together,” the audience is transported to East High and all of the daily drama that comes with it.
The entire cast is superb with special mention of Ryan Van Nostrand who brings flair to the role of East High’s homeroom and drama teacher Ms. Darbus and steals the show. Van Nostrand also has the pleasure of delivering the best line — “Anything is possible in the theatre, Troy. There’s not a star in heaven you can’t reach, but you have to allow yourself to reach for it.”
Choreography is top notch, especially the big numbers like “Start of Something New” and “Getcha Head in the Game.” Costumes by Liz Honig are impressive, from the basketball team uniforms to Sharpay’s flashy outfits. Large panels with the school’s colors and mascot complete the picture.
The cast has poured their heart and soul into this family-friendly production and it shows in spades. Purchase a pair of pom poms in the lobby to cheer them on and to support this wonderful theater.
Cast (in alphabetical order): Gabby Blum, Logan Borre, Kieran Brown, Mairead Camas, Catherine Diakou, Julianne Donohue. Michael Gualtieri, Brody Hampson, Derek Hough, Max Lamberg, Emmerson Lebrecht, Kaylee Nguyen, Zach Podair, Adrienne Porti, Julie Ricotta, Alia Romanelli, Ryan Romanelli, Savannah Shaw, Amanda Sidman, Ari Spiegel, Ryan Van Nostrand, Emily Ann Weaver and Justin Walsh Weiner
The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown presents High School Musical Jr. through May 15. Running time is one hour and 30 minutes with one 15 minute intermission. All seats are $25. To order, visit www.smithtownpac.org.
All photos courtesy of Clicks by Courtney, LLC