Disney's super hit TV movie High School Musical ran in its stage form at the Mall of Emirates auditorium from Thursday to Saturday. The show was organised by Popular Productions, who have in the past put on Educating Rita and Blues Brothers Unlimited. I was lucky enough to attend one of the many rehearsals held prior to the sold-out Thursday debut show. It was clear from my time with the cast and crew that these were hard-working individuals who had spent months preparing for a gruelling performance schedule which had them memorising their lines, their dance routines, their marks on stage and singing live - a feat that would make a seasoned veteran break into sweat. These were not, however, professionals. For many of them this was their first foray into musical theatre and the nervousness probably wasn't helped by extremely high expectations.
The cast featured talents from the UAE in both principal and ensemble roles and ranged from the ages of 10 and above. Together, they formed the backdrop of the singsong show set in a New Mexico high school. The story, a modern day combination of Romeo & Juliet and Grease, revolves around the basketball captain Troy Bolton, played by Donovan Preston, and the newly enrolled bookworm Gabriella Montez, portrayed by Alexandra Dewar. Their rival groups, the "jocks" and the "brainiacs" respectively, need to join forces so that Troy and Gabriella can not only compete in the basketball championships and science decathlon, but also play the leads in the annual school play.
Rounding off the wonderful lead cast were Abbie Weatherley, Matthew Melone, Shellan-Rae Hellberg, Stephan Beazar, Aiden Smith, Stuart Kennedy and Lesley Black who play Sharpay, Ryan, Taylor, Chad, Zeke, Coach Bolton and Ms. Darbus, respectively - the latter two being the only adult characters in the show. Together they provided many laughs and the chemistry between them, especially Weatherley and Melone, was great.
Fans of the movie would have appreciated the screen to stage transformation as it kept much of the look and feel of the original. The cast was young and fresh-looking and brought realism to the story's mantra of hopefulness and possibility. These adolescent stars, mostly amateur, were hand-picked from 550 hopefuls who auditioned in May. Together with a hard-working production team, wonderful sets, costumes created in part by the team responsible behind the film, and a posse of loveable kids, the show transports you into the multimillion dollar grossing movie. By the end it proved to be a perfect night out for the entire family and a great example of local talent putting on a spectacular show.