As an awkward, skinny, bespectacled sixth grader, I always dreamed that high school would be like it was on the stage at the State Theatre Tuesday night—a place where the geeks and the jocks would intermingle, where the basketball team never lost a game, and where you’d find true love sitting next to you in chemistry class. Of course, the real deal is nothing like it was on the stage last night. Diversity was disparaged, cliques never mingled, and true love was generally found at the bottom of a beer keg.
High School Musical originated as a made-for-TV Disney movie, and it remains a typical Disney-style spectacle. Inside the four walls of East High, Jocks, Brainiacs, Thespians, and Skater Dudes start off the show by keeping to their cliques (relevant song: “Stick to the Status Quo”) and end the show by all coming together for the good of society, belting out “We’re All in This Together.”
In between, the show features plenty of feel-good bromides (“you can be anything you want to be”) and high-school clichés—the popular yet obnoxious blonde drama queen and her queer best friend; the big-man-on-campus jock who falls for the exotic Brainiac new girl; and an animated, artfully dressed, liberal-minded drama teacher—all played for as many laughs as possible. And, predictably, the show is strongest when the company dances and sings—which is good, because the strong vocals make up for the fact that the acting seems a bit forced at times.
On the surface, High School Musical may seem like nothing more than a typical Disney product, complete with saccharine sentiments, stolen kisses, and a feel-good ending, but the story is laced with thoughts that challenge the same ideas the songs seem to be championing. In “Stick to the Status Quo,” for example, the song is about staying in your clique and knowing where you belong, yet the jock solos about his love for baking crème brulee, and the overweight science geek breaks out into her favorite hip-hop jam. Also included are life lessons about teamwork, loyalty, and friendship, all of which are refreshingly sensible, no matter what your age.
And while most of the kids in the theater probably don’t even know what “the status quo” is, HSM gives parents a convenient vehicle for discussing the real-life issues alluded to in the show. It can also help remind parents about the perennial conflicts and challenges of high school, and offer some helpful guidance about how things have changed—and how they have stayed so very much the same.
Disney’s High School Musical continues at the State Theatre through April 6,.