Disney's High School Musical
by Valley Youth Theatre

Stephanie Stamos and Nate Doonan As Disney's High School Musical sweeps its way through the youth theatre of America, it is also sweeping away box office records. And Valley Youth Theatre’s big, splashy production at the large, 700-seat Herberger Theatre in Phoenix is doing it in a huge way, extending for almost a full two weeks in June. And they may have been able to do that all summer if the theatre had been available.

Director Bobb Kooper and his company, celebrating its recent alumni success in American Idol (Jordin Sparks) and You’re the One That I Want (Max Crumm), continue to stage some great singers for their shows. This time they’re breaking in Nate Doonan for his theatrical debut in the lead role of Troy Bolton, the star basketball player of East High. And Nate has a very successful debut with some great singing and a good performance highlighted by his reactions to scary theatre director Mrs. Darbus (he completely collapses into his chair when Darbus catches him using his phone and confiscates his cell, and later jumping when Darbus startles him from behind). Stephanie Stamos is a sweet and shy Gabriella with a terrific voice that can be gentle or belt. Together their duets command the inside of the Herberger like a pop music concert.

And then there are the many amusing supporting characters that give this show its comedy, beginning with fraternal twins Sharpay and Ryan Evans – the school’s perennial theatrical stars who are in danger of losing their positions at the top of the stage firmament when jock Troy and brainiac Gabriella break out of their cliques by trying out for the upcoming school Katie Wilson and Brian Wible musical. Both Katie Wilson and Brian Wible are reprising their National Youth Theatre Award-winning performances from Greasepaint’s production earlier this year. But this reprise is not merely regurgitating what they did before, as VYT is doing the other High School Musical version that has Ryan being annoyed by his sister rather than idolizing her. They are terrific again, this time with Sharpay being an outward bully (and a pretty intimidating one at that) with a fragile inner-self hiding beneath, and Ryan showing more backbone early on. And they nail their different but still amusing and perfectly executed musical numbers. The director and crew had some extra fun with What I’ve Been Looking For. Not only do the twins bring their own taped accompaniment – they also get their own mini-sparkly curtain and a tall staircase that they nimbly dance up and down.

Adults play the roles of the melodramatic drama teacher Mrs. Darbus and the basketball-obsessed Coach Bolton (Troy’s father). And both are hilarious, with Toni Jourdan using intonation and body language to great effect, and Bolton (Cory McCloskey) adlibbing to become even more obsessed with clichés than he is with his basketball. Their arguments are a hoot – especially the day I attended when Bolton accidentally calls Zeke “Jeke,” then goes on to explain how sometimes he calls him “Zeke” and other times “Jeke,” with Mrs. Darbus following up on the Zeke/Jeke duality.

As Zeke/Jeke, Dallas Morgensen is good as the crème brule-loving basketball player, with other notable performances coming from Jacqueline M. Rushing as brainiac friend Taylor McKessie, Paul Powell as school radio announcer Jack Scott, and Ashley Waggoner as the shy playwright Kelsi Neilson. And the ensemble makes the big musical numbers soar throughout. They are all dressed in Karol Kooper’s costumes with a great eye for contemporary fashion. Michael Eddy’s lighting is spectacular. Choreographer Sloan Bayer puts together some good dance routines, working some real basketball playing into Get Your Head in the Game (assisted by some professionals with the Phoenix Suns). And Mark Fearey’s band is phenomenal, completing that pop concert feel and helping to give the show its dynamic energy.

Performs June 8 - 29, 2007.

Rob Hopper
National Youth Theatre

~ Cast ~

Troy Bolton: Nate Doonan
Chad Danforth: Josh Rushing
Zeke Baylor: Dallas Morgensen
The Jocks Ensemble:
Bradley Keene
Lacour Lavante Lane
Paul Leighton
Brett Ponton
Bryan Ponton
Derek Rushing

Sharpay Evans: Katie Wilson
Ryan Evans: Brian Wible
Susan: Krystina Alabado
Alan: Gavin Brown
James: Shawn Hathcock
Cyndra: Aryn Nemiroff
Cathy: Stefani Wood
Thespian Performance Artists:
Jeffrey Hollands
Cathy Landry
Olivia Perry
The Thespian Ensemble:
Lizzie Baggleman
Chelsea Wolfe

Gabriella Montez: Stephanie Stamas
Taylor McKessie: Jacqueline M. Rushing
Martha Cox: Megan Power
The Brainiacs Ensemble:
Cori Brown
Aubrey Aaron Clark
Jordan Daniels
Christine Margo
Jessica Moffitt
Andrew Nemiroff
Chelsea Perkins
Caitlan Spencer

Ripper: Robert Ramirez
Mongo: William Marquez
The Skaters Ensemble:
Yvette Adams
Hunter Beetham
Lauren Carroll
Matt Cordon
Lauren Miller

Wildcat Cheerleaders:
Molly Balzano
Lauren Devine
Maris Lea Fernandes
Sydney Marie Hawes
Sarah Hollands
Kate Nienhauser

Jack Scott: Paul Powell
Kelsi Neilson: Ashley Waggoner
Student Ensemble:
Kelly Marie Montoya
Ellie Norris
Amanda Parsons
Rebecca Smith
Tasha Spear
Taylor Stephens

Ms. Darbus: Toni Jourdan
Coach Bolton: Cory McCloskey, Isaac Raymond

Director: Bobb Cooper
Music Direction: Mark Fearey
Choreography: Sloan Bayer
Costume Design: Karol Cooper
Scenic Design: Dori Brown
Lighting Design: Michael Eddy
Sound Design: Dave Temby


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