By Mike Giuliano
The stage musical will be done on a really big stage when "High School Musical" comes to Baltimore's Hippodrome Theatre in February.
And for a stage that's smooth because it's frozen, you can check out the ice skaters doing "High School Musical: The Ice Tour" Oct. 31 to Nov. 4 at the 1st Mariner Arena in Baltimore.
At the rate this is going, we may be in for adaptations of "High School Musical" as a classical ballet, rodeo spectacle, theme park ride, interactive video game, and Super Bowl half-time show.
As for the musical itself, the show has a mediocre score and a story as old as "Romeo and Juliet." The most relevant cultural reference point actually is the eternally popular musical "Grease." Think of "High School Musical" as "Grease" on training wheels.
Such observations really aren't meant as a put-down, because this show is so agreeable and wholesome that it makes "Grease" look smutty by comparison. Although there is nothing truly memorable in the score, it's pleasant.
And the show's book by the aptly named David Simpatico is genuinely simpatico when it comes to understanding the peer pressure issues facing young teen viewers. Indeed, the kids attending a recent Winters Lane performance followed the show so attentively that they would have gotten an "A" on a "High School Musical"-themed quiz.
The production itself merits no more than a "B," however, because director and choreographer Jason M. Kimmell doesn't completely have a handle on a show whose large cast, numerous scene changes and musical numbers require a lot of stage management.
This production's uneven quality is especially evident in the musical numbers, ranging from an admirably synchronized number in which the basketball team tosses the ball around to other numbers in which ensembles either just stand around or move about like teens refusing to follow directions.
There needs to be a stronger sense of continuity throughout the show, so that scenes flow from one to the next.
The singing and orchestral accompaniment are generally good, but likewise don't always seem to hold together in a smoothly paced manner. On a technical note, nobody is done any favors by varying sound levels that make you wish the principal would buy better microphones.
What saves the day is that there's no denying the enthusiasm felt by the young cast and the adoration of their loyal fans in this Catonsville theater. There's also reason to cheer several of the lead performers for helping raise the overall grade.
As Troy Bolton, the basketball team captain who musters the courage to audition for a role in the school play, Chris Rudy has the sweet-toned voice and charisma to give him stage presence.
As Gabriella Montez, the academic smartie whose puppy love interest in Troy forces them to cross peer pressure barriers, Jennie Marie Beck also has an engaging voice. Even though Beck still has some learning to do when it comes to the science of achieving stage presence, she and Rudy have enough chemistry to make the heartwarming plot work.
As Sharpay Evans, the high school's reigning musical theater star, Joanna Chilcoat has fun with the control-queen caricature but should tone down the more grotesque Ethel Merman-ish vibes.
There's an especially enjoyable performance by Cheryl Vourvoulas as the school's enthusiastic drama teacher, Ms. Darbus.
Surely some of the conviction in the performance comes from this actor's years as a teacher in Baltimore County.
Between the reminders of high school on stage and in the audience, it's easy to get into the silly spirit of things here. And the show's more serious message to "Be yourself" is worth thinking about at any age.
"High School Musical" runs through Sunday, Oct. 21, at Winters Lane Productions, in the Q Theatre at the Community College of Baltimore County's Catonsville campus at 800 S. Rolling Road.
Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m.
Tickets are $15, $13 for seniors and students, $12 for children.
Call 877-718-7977 or go to www.winterslaneproductions.org.