High School Musical Jr. is the story of Troy Bolton (Nathan Stafford), the star basketball player, and Gabriella Montez (Gemma Dandie), the math geek, as they try to break away from their respective cliques to audition for the school musical. They are hampered by the manipulation of events by Drama captain Sharpay Evans (Caley Watt) and her brother Ryan (Oscar Bridges) as they try to scupper the competition for the coveted lead roles. Stafford and Dandie demonstrate the proficiency one expects from these seasoned youth performers. They shine in their duets with delightful harmonies and are well matched vocally. Although Watts and Bridges are not an obvious partnership, both bring appealing individuality to their characters. Bridges is perfect as the flamboyant and droll subservient brother to Watt’s appropriately bossy and self centred Sharpay.
There are many supporting roles worthy of mention, particularly Kiara Linke who almost steals the show in the dramatic role of drama teacher Ms. Darbus. She shows a commitment to the charachter and level of acting rare in one so young. William Hambridge-Hay is highly engaging, energetic and effective as news announcer Jack Scott. His segments are always a fun interlude. It is pleasing to see a confident Joel Pathuis as Coach Bolton. Pathuis is a newcomer to the world of theatre but is already making waves. As Troy’s best friend, Chad Danforth, Ryan Vandermyle hints at his obvious potential and we are left wanting to hear more of his fine voice. There is a large capable ensemble who best show their skills in the catchy group numbers such as Stick to the Status Quo, We’re all in this Together, and Start of Something New.
Although not as long as the full version of this musical, this shorter Junior production loses none of it’s magic thanks to the great work of Director Thomas Phillips who has kept the action moving, the locations and storyline clear and balanced the involvement of these talented teens so as not to underutilise or overcrowd. Musical Director Jesse Buddel has worked well with the recorded tracks to ensure the ensemble singing numbers are outstanding. There is lively, fun choreography by Rosanna Commisso, challenging enough to highlight the superior skills of some of the finest dancers whilst not overwhelming those with less experience.
This is a fine example of youth theatre suitable for the whole family.
* This production is double cast. This review was of the Red Cast.