What began last year as a simple, Disney Channel television movie has mushroomed into a bona fide cultural phenomenon that is moving faster than even the usually shrewd Disney executives can keep up with. This basic love story of the school jock and the school brain falling in love while discovering an unrequited desire to sing together in the school musical and the havoc that this creates on their respective cliques sounded such a chord—literally, with its well-crafted melodic bon-bons—with the high-school and even the middle-school set, that its soundtrack astoundingly became the biggest-selling album of 2006 and a sequel was immediately planned, while a quick concert tour featuring the movie cast sold out sports stadiums across the country, including two nights at the Allstate Arena last winter. Meanwhile, Disney had already gone ahead and licensed the show to actual high schools to produce, but subsequently mounted its own nationally touring Broadway-style version with its sights set squarely on New York, which had its premiere right here in Chicago last week, complete with two movie cast members in attendance and hysterical teenagers screaming and mobbing them, even as a locally produced Emerald City Theatre production actually featuring high school kids beat that production to the punch by a couple of weeks. Even without having seen that production, my first thought was that this all-new veteran cast is too old to pass as high schoolers, and most were obviously chosen for their dancing skills—which are indeed extraordinary—than for their singing or acting skills. The result is that the work is quickly evolving into caricature, a teeny-bopper “Rocky Horror Picture Show” with key lines and lyrics already getting audible and participatory audience reactions such as hisses and cheers. What is missing, though, in the transition from small screen to big stage is heart, i.e., the simple love story and self-discovery that drives the plot (replaced here by a distracting onstage disc jockey narrator a la “Grease”), such as it is, which means that those of us over drinking age don’t really care much about the whys and wherefores and find that there is actually much more of a show watching those caught up in watching the show than the show itself. (Dennis Polkow)
This production is now closed.