The L.A. premiere of the "High School Musical" touring company production likely will please the throngs of pre-existing fans, but what worked on TV comes off unevenly onstage.
The L.A. premiere of the “High School Musical” touring company production likely will please the throngs of pre-existing fans, but what worked on TV comes off unevenly onstage. This tuner has a generic first act with few memorable renditions of hugely popular songs, but the far better second act makes up for that with an enjoyable onslaught of youthful energy and impressive choreography. Director Jeff Calhoun’s staging is often visually clever, and the cast is mostly terrific.The plot’s been detailed to death: High school basketball team leader Troy (John Jeffrey Martin) and math whiz Gabriella (Arielle Jacobs) meet cute, fall in love and have to deal with the freakish, scheming bro-and-sis team of Sharpay (Chandra Lee Schwartz) and Ryan (Bobby List) at a generic high school. Martin is wholly charismatic, believable in tender romantic scenes and in dramatic moments. Jacobs gets marginally less to do but is fine nonetheless. Both actors have strong singing voices, and they shine in duets such as “What I’ve Been Looking For” and “I Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” As Sharpay, Schwartz seems a trifle restrained, but List scores as Ryan. Evans and LaCombe are sharply amusing as Troy and Gabriella’s best friends, and their comedic chemistry together is notable. Ellen Harvey brings a wry appeal to drama teacher Ms. Darbus, and Olivia Oguma is very funny as grateful composer Kelsi. Calhoun keeps things hopping with Kenneth Foy’s impressively reconfiguring set, and a moment where a dozen basketballs fall onto the stage directly in front of a dozen actors is a nifty piece of theatrical business. These versions of songs aren’t very memorable, but David Simpatico’s book (based on Peter Barsocchini’s screenplay) has some witty moments. Lisa Stevens’ choreography is creative, particularly good in “Get’cha Head in the Game” and the show closer “We’re All in This Together.” Traditional musical fans may find this to be only moderately entertaining, but younger audiences — all of whom have seen “HSM” 300 times — will probably love it all over again.