Since its release back in 2006, Disney’s High School Musical has been a firm favourite for its memorable characters, upbeat soundtrack and dance routines. Co-Directors Ellie Fidler and Rex Appeal, with just two weeks of rehearsals, deliver this in spades, recreating a childhood classic which, while not entirely polished, is utterly joyous and infectiously enthusiastic.
The production team have transformed St Mary’s College dining hall into East High, complete with a basketball court marked out with masking tape on the floor and banners projected onto the walls. The audience are seated down both sides of the hall, creating a more high-energy atmosphere which forces the actors to engage with the audience at all times. This worked particularly well during the whole-ensemble dance routines choreographed by Siobhan Gardiner and Ella Al-Khalil Coyle, making creative use of the space consistently and lending a more immersive feel to the show.
The cast themselves are impressive, with boundless energy from the opening number to the finale. The ensemble are cohesive and work well collectively, especially in the larger-cast songs like ‘Stick to the Status Quo’. Keir Mulcahey and Annie Lucas make for a believable and charming Troy and Gabriella, with genuine chemistry that is conveyed both in dialogue and in song. Ellie Nixon is every inch the diva as Sharpay, bouncing off Dylan Hicks’s loveable Ryan with confidence; their rendition of ‘Bop to the Top’ is a pleasure. Eleanor Storey wins the audience over easily as flamboyant drama teacher Mrs Darbus, earning some of the biggest laughs of the show. In turn, Ellie Barrie is not the Coach Bolton we recognise from the Disney series, but Troy’s forceful Australian mother, making for a much more entertaining portrayal than the original. Likewise, the recasting of Zeke as Zara, played by Sophia Pym, is hugely popular with the audience and adds an original element to the happy ending.
The show is minimal in terms of set – not a single chair is used – which allows for a more fast-paced production in which the actors can be sitting in a classroom one moment and playing basketball the next. The costumes are impressive, from the sports kit to Sharpay’s bedazzling array of pink clothing; Nixon seems to wear a new outfit every time she walks on stage.
The band, directed by Jonny McCausland, are excellent, performing every song to its full capacity. Unfortunately, in their enthusiasm the musicians often drown out song lyrics or bits of dialogue in between verses, meaning several jokes are totally lost on the audience. While the technical team shows initiative in a particularly difficult venue, there are a few issues, notably with microphones, which makes some of the songs or speech hard to comprehend on occasion. This, however, does not inhibit the audience’s boundless enthusiasm for songs like ‘We’re All in this Together’ (the programme even contains lyrics, encouraging audience participation) and ‘Breaking Free’.
Foot of the Hill’s production is a little rough around the edges for its lack of rehearsal time, but it is nevertheless a total delight to watch. The perfect show for the last week of term, it indulges in all the cheesy, childish nostalgia that we need at this time of year. Towards the end, the cast lose their way a little with a series of choreographed songs, but their enthusiasm knows no bounds and the audience are having so much fun that it really makes no difference. High School Musical is a joy to watch, the perfect antidote to any end-of-term blues.