As with every arts organization, New Candlelight is seeking pathways to a younger audience down sylvan Arden way. It did not take long for Disney to turn their deliriously successful teen-driven TV phenomenon, “High School Musical” into a stage show. Ergo, the Delaware premiere of the musical which runs through February 27.
The plot has gravitas similar to the excruciating tension as to who will buy Laurie's covered dish in OKLAHOMA. In fact, the story line makes Disney's first animated cartoon, Mickey Mouse in “Steamboat Willie”, seem like 'War and Peace' in comparison. The sugary fluff on top of the crème brulee offered by one of the 'jocks' (Jordan Weagraff) to his unrequited love, Sharpay Evans, (Jenna Angeloni) has more substance than the sophomoric dialog conceived by the authors. (All sophomores I know would be offended).
But Troy and Gabriella will live on past Aisle Say on stage and screen and be forever memorialized as the bridge of amelioration between 'The Jocks” and “The Brainiacs” of East High School. Now that's a legacy! (Where are Tony and Maria from “West Side Story” when you need them?)
As with every production New Candlelight has staged in its two years, the cast is unequivocally exuberant and enthusiastic. NCT veteran Dann Dunn, a skilled and creative choreographer, assumed the reins of director as well.
All of the dance numbers worked but “Get Your Head In The Game”, sung by the basketball players. The mind-numbing redundancy of the title lyrics allied with the fact that none of the actors ever played the game competitively dramatically leavened the high energy and rah-rah attitude the dance was attempting to capture.
Troy Bolton (Josh Bernaski) played a strong leading man conflicted between athletics and love. His father, the stereotypical myopic Coach Bolton, (Bob Miller) is pressuring him to be the 'man' for the championship game. Yet he met Gabriella Montez (Becca Lee) during the summer (think “Grease”) and his macho facade is dissembling quicker than Tiger Woods' endorsements. Bernaski would do well with more engagement of the audience with eye contact, but generally his role was solid.
Lee as Gabriella exhibited more depth to her character and has a stage charm that all actors aspire toward. It's a quality that is innate in this very amorphous craft of acting. There is some chemistry between the two romancers as they converse. Their voices sit well and they light up the stage during their duet of “Breaking Free”, the song that serves as the metaphor for the show; i.e. Breaking free from stereotypes.
Brother sister act Ryan and Sharpay ((Bradley Vile) and (Angeloni) play over the top drama king and queen respectively. Angeloni has the meatier role and never drops character. She was an audience favorite. Both, however, are accomplished singers and dancers. And - restating the aforementioned tension of the plot - in the final scene we are told why her canine name! I will treasure that moment.
Two of the dancers, Nicki Curmaci and Jessica O'Brien, showed us high kicks only The Rockettes could achieve.
It would be helpful if NCT could attach names to the head shots in the lobby. All actors want to be recognized; that's a tenet of theatre. The other tenet is the value of dinner and musical theatre.....at $55.00 per. My dear sister Liz and I continue to enjoy the bonhomie of the new friends we meet at our table with every show.
NewCandlelightTheatre.com 302.475.2313 Until February 27.