Herndon High School
The cast of Freedom High School's "High School Musical" bop-bop-bopped their way to the top during their Saturday night performance full of enthusiasm and fun. "High School Musical" is fan favorite Disney Channel Original movie that premiered in 2006 and charmed people of all ages across the world, going on to include two more movies in the franchise. A stage adaption following the same story and same songs premiered the same year, going on tour for a year but never playing on Broadway.
Many refer to the plot as a modern day "Romeo and Juliet" in a high school setting; the all-star jock, Troy, and beautiful brainiac, Gabriella, fall for each other after a fateful meeting during karaoke and meet again when Gabriella moves to Troy's high school. But their love doesn't come without tribulations; they both want to audition for the musical and be together, but their teammates and responsibilities come between them, as does the jealous Sharpay (former drama club star) and her brother Ryan. In the end through dedication, teamwork, love, and a little bit of luck, Troy and Gabriella can "Break Free" and follow their dreams together.
Duncan MacLean and Sydney Calvelli as Troy and Gabriella, respectively, shone as the leaders of their group and instead of copying directly from the movie, made the characters their own. They worked together with ease and there was a definite arc in their relationship. Sharpay and Ryan Evans are another dynamic pair, performed by Ashley Nguyen and Ethan VanSlyke with all the enthusiasm and character they could. The characters have big shoes to fill, but Nguyen and VanSlyke slid into them perfectly, along with bubbly dance numbers, killer vocals, and sparkly costumes. Not to be forgotten was Emily Sorber as the wildly eccentric drama teacher, Ms. Darbus. Sorber had impeccable comedic timing in this very natural role that she wholeheartedly embraced.
A large aspect of the show is the relationship between the different cliques in the school (jocks, brainiacs, skaters, drama club, etc.) and the ensemble really committed to their groups and specific characters could be felt within those. The energy that filled the auditorium when the entire company was onstage was thrilling in numbers like "Stick to the Status Quo" and "We're All in This Together (Reprise).
The massive set made great use of the stage space and was flexible for whatever setting it needed to be, ranging from a school announcement booth to a classroom and even a rooftop deck. Changing these settings from one to another went very smoothly thanks to the talents of the run crew and lighting electrician. Sound had a few stumbles, but overall it ran smoothly and the characters could be heard well and were balanced with the talented pit orchestra. Good use of costumes and props added sparkle and flair to the show, with the basketballs in "Get'cha Head in the Game" being of note.
A classic such as "High School Musical" can be quite a task to pull off, but Freedom High School embraced the fun nature of the show and made it a good time for everyone there. Strong dance numbers, an energetic cast, along with hardworking techs helped this show reach it's potential--they were all in it together.
Oakton High School
Come get'cha head in the game and your heart in the song at Freedom High School's production of High School Musical! Whether you're a jock, brainiac, or thespian, everyone can be a Wildcat for a night as Freedom takes you into the world of East High and proves that we're all in this together.
Based on the 2006 cult classic Disney Channel Original Movie of the same name, High School Musical was brought to the stage in 2007. The immensely popular story follows high school basketball star Troy Bolton and brainy new student Gabriella Montez as they decide to audition for their school's musical together, disturbing the status quo and raining chaos on the clique-ridden East High.
In a role familiar to young audiences, Duncan MacLean did a commendable job putting his own spin on Troy, embracing the character and clearly differentiating between his basketball-bro persona when with his teammates and his hidden vulnerabilities when with Gabriella. Especially notable was his believable father-son relationship with Coach Bolton (Jack Doyle), as their tensions over Troy's diverging path grow and eventually reach a breaking point in Act Two. Sydney Calvelli consistently embodied Gabriella's timid nature, whether bonding with Troy or leading her classmates in the Scholastic Decathlon, but she most shined when singing. Heartbroken vocals captivated the audience in "When There Was Me and You," and a powerful belt heightened the already climactic "Breaking Free."
Playing the villainous yet lovable twins Sharpay and Ryan Evans, Ashley Nguyen and Ethan VanSlyke were a dynamic duo. The pair had great chemistry and commanded attention every moment they were on stage. Nguyen played the infamous diva with consistent energy and vocals. She demonstrated strong dedication to the character while still giving a layered performance that clearly showed Sharpay's feelings towards the other characters as well as her underlying motives and insecurities. VanSlyke was equally fun as Sharpay's younger (by eight minutes) brother, his physicality, impressive dancing ("everybody loves a good jazz square!"), and impeccable comedic timing that immediately won the audience over.
Other standouts included Emily Sorber as Ms. Darbus, who brought originality and a genuine nature to the comical drama teacher as she instructed her students to act like animals and fought for the place for arts in school; and Alyssa Hudenburg as Kelsi Neilsen, who brought sweet vocals and character development as she developed from a shy songwriter to a confident girl no longer afraid of standing up to Sharpay. Basketball player Zeke Baylor (Josh Lee) and brainiac Martha Cox (Ashley Pearce) both contributed memorable solos in the energetic "Stick to the Status Quo," confessing their secret passions for baking and hip-hop, respectively, atop cafeteria tables.
This and other large ensemble numbers featured strong dancing and a large, involved cast. Stage levels were smartly utilized to allow for larger ensembles. Thoughtful costuming (Kanisha Sukhadia and Hannah Peters) reflected the story's development, clearly delineating the cliques in "Stick to the Status Quo" with jerseys for the athletes, flannels for the skateboarders, and sparkles for Sharpay, and ultimately school unity in "We're All in This Together (Reprise)," as everyone overcame their differences and dressed in school colors.
Whether you prefer to be on the court or in the lab, Freedom High School demonstrated that we can all come together in the theatre in this feel-good production of High School Musical.