August 30th, 2008

Fishy Circumstances

High School Musical

It might never have piqued my interest if it were not for Andrew Lloyd Webber. Thanks to him, I'd Do Anything was made, the third series he was involved in for casting the lead for a West End musical show. In this iteration, both Nancy and Oliver were cast, to join Rowan Atkinson in the forthcoming production of Oliver. Along the way, the would-be Olivers were taught a number from High School Musical. It wasn't particularly catchy, but it was enough to plant the seed of curiousity in me. And so it was I bought an inexpensive ticket for the last week of the show's temporary run in London.

Mostly, it's a mediocre peppy pop-fest with a fairly predictable plot, but it has its strengths, making it more than a modern high school musical which reminded me sporadically of its predecessors. Its initial boy-meets-girl concept was right out of Grease, swapping snow and karaoke for beachside romance. Its audition-for-show premise is ubiquitous in musical theater but, with it fresh in my mind, reminded me most of Hairspray. (Also, as in Hairspray, only the instigator of ill has a Latin dance number) All female teachers speak in a high-pitched nasal voice. All named characters appear to have ended up in relationships thanks to last-minute end-tidying. The musical, adapted from the original movie, would generally work better in a movie format. I'm not selling it, am I?

But there are things that the musical does well and which made it worth seeing. Some of the music is rewardingly catchy enough that it's still in my head the next day and I'm glad of it. I don't see how the earthworm-roleplay or waving down the curtain to the very end of curtain call could possibly be better in film than on stage. The musical makes very intelligent and integral use of mobile phones, proof it's a more contemporary conception than my high school days.

I was moderately surprised to find the audience was primarily composed of preteens. During the first act, this was a problem, especially with the under-supervised five-and-six year-olds near me. Over intermission, most of them acquired glow sabers. It looked like a panto audience - and as soon as it started acting like one in the second act, I appreciated them as audience members much, much more. The more grown-up teens behind me provided me inadvertantly with occasional commentary on how the musical compared with the movie.

In most theaters, cheap tickets are still worth having. Much as I don't regret going, I was highly underwhelmed with the least expensive seats at the Hammersmith Apollo. (Okay, there were even cheaper ones if I'd been up for standing for the whole show.) The acoustics weren't great - I missed far more lines than I should have. I don't think I'd ever go to that venue again unless I felt the production warranted better tickets.