HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL – Written by David Simpatico; Music and Lyrics by multiple artists; Directed and Choreographed by Carrie Colton; Music Direction by Jalyn Courtenay Webb.  Produced by Candlelight Dinner Playhouse (4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown) through September 8.  Tickets available at 970-744-3747 or ColoradoCandlelight.com. 

Went to see HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL and came home exhausted.  Like I had been in a Zumba class – not just watched young people dancing their collective booties off.  They make this cheer-leading hip-hopping Broadway dance style performing look so easy – but you know it’s not. 

Candlelight is to be congratulated for finding age-appropriate young performers to take part in HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL.  Seventeen of the young dancers are either in college now or recently graduated; twelve are making their Candlelight debut and one of the leads is still in high school.  But they dance as though they have been on stage for generations. Collectively, their choreography is tight, they never lose their focus, and their enthusiasm is catching.  

A Romeo and Juliet tale about warring “families” who are determined to keep two young lovers apart, this script also borrows from GREASE, A CHORUS LINE, and several episodes of GLEE. The families in this case are the various status groups at East High School – the brainiacs (who want Gabriella in their math competition), the jocks (who want Troy on their basketball team), the theatre kids (the domain of Sharpay and Ryan) and the skater dudes.  The mood goes from “Stick to the Status Quo” (keep everything the way it’s always been) to “We’re All in this Together” (after being taught by Gabby and Troy that you can be more than what you’ve been). Probably just a little too simplistic for most real-life high schools, but it works well on stage. 

Taking on both the direction and choreography of a piece this energetic is a herculean task.  Carrie Colton was up to the job and seems to have imbued her cast with her enthusiasm for the music and the message of acceptance the script promotes.  As a teacher at Metro State and the Artistic Director at Rocky Mountain Theatre for Kids, her expertise at turning students into professionals got a workout with this show.  But it worked.  The footwork in “Get’cha Head in the Game” with basketballs flying in every direction and eight dancers dribbling in unison was a wonder to behold.  Many of the songs are relatively simple melodies, but some – as in “I Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” (no, not the Frankie Valli version!) – had complicated harmonies that Thomas Beeker as Troy and Andrea Comacho as Gabriella totally nailed. 

The young lovers were played by Thomas and Andrea with complete sincerity and warmth.  They knew who they were and what they wanted and couldn’t understand why everyone else was getting so angry all the time.  The antagonists – Sharpay as performed by Delany Marie and her brother Ryan as played by Curtis Lemieux – were too funny together to be taken seriously by the audience.  But on stage, they were dead serious. 

The ensemble cast featured some terrific dancers and gave everyone a full character and a reason to speak.   It’s nice to see the dialogue passed around amongst various members of the cast – giving everyone a chance to shine.  Olivia Wilson was featured as the composer of the play they are rehearsing and fighting for parts.  She did a nice turn as the girl who gets bullied by the theatre kids and then stands her ground when her work is accepted and praised. Owen Whitham makes the most of his part as Zeke, a basketball player with a passion for baking and a crush on Sharpay.  And Laila Aniyah does a good job of creating laughs with her role as Jackie Scott, the radio announcer for the high school radio station. 

The adults in the cast are played by Damon Guerrasio as Coach Bolton of the basketball team and Samantha Jo Staggs as Ms. Darbus, the director of the theatre club.  Instead of being the voice of reason for their students, they further the competition between the groups and have to be taught themselves that acceptance and cooperation can change everything.  You don’t have to WIN to not lose. 

This friendly family performance is sure to be a hit with your teens and young adults who grew up on a diet of Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens and will rejoice at hearing the music again and seeing the movie acted out on stage. 

A WOW factor of 8.5!! 

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