It is one of the happiest musicals of the year so far. On Sunday, March 2, Chrysler Theatre Kids opens the curtain on its first ever full-length junior musical, a not to be missed production of Disney’s famed High School Musical Jr. And although there is much dancing and even more wonderful singing, many with the full onslaught of 15 youthful voices, on such spirited choral numbers as We Can Do It and We’re All In This Together, does not mean it is not a drama without considerable entertaining conflict.
In fact, the whole musical is laced with clashing situations of key cast members as they balance their lives with the demands of their education and extracurricular ambitions. And then there is the conflict between East High’s teachers. Its drama instructor Ms. Darbus is at odds with Coach Bolton. It could be professional jealousies, but whatever it is Charlotte Bondy as Darbus and Madilyn Zajac as Bolton bring just the right tension to their tête-à-tête.
Zajac, who wears an oversized mustache masters an incredible mix of arrogance and pomposity to her role, a considerable offset to Bondy’s take on the meticulous Darbus.
However, it turns out the real, on the edge of your seat conflict, is between the aspiring Romeo and Juliet competing for the prize of starring in the school’s Juliet and Romeo play.
Late entrants to the contest, Troy Bolton, played with uncanny nonchalance by Jed Polsky, and Maria Hausmann in the starring role as Gabriella Montez, seem destined to let the opportunity of exposing their incredible talent pass them by. Gabriella has a nerdy science event to concentrate on while the jocks on the school’s Wildcats basketball team are counting on Troy’s help.
When they miss the audition cut-off, it seems the whole idea of them acting together is put to an uneasy rest. While it might seem that way, but as a taste of what could be, and with the help of musical accompaniment by Giada Gidillini, on the electric organ, as Kelsi Nielsen, they breakout into a heartwarming duet. The quality of the pairing stops Darbus in her tracks and holds the audience spellbound.
Seeing what is obvious, the mostly dogmatic drama teacher agrees to allow them to attend a callback. But, it is here that the calculating and mischievous Sharpay Evans, a solid role for the talented Vanessa Randell, and her Romeo, Ryan Evans, played with distinction by Corinne Beneteau, plot a way to cheat. It involves scheming and lying to put them over the top in the final audition. It almost works.
Almost, but karma just won’t allow such a victory. Evans is called to task for her sneaky ways opening the door, or paving the way, for Gabriella and Troy to win the prized roles.
Choreographer Hope Forman has plotted out a most precise methodology to keep the actors in perfect sync throughout. And while they move around the stage, often all at once, they also have considerable and welcoming opportunities to practice some very senior dance maneuvers done most often to the beat of the musical’s soundtrack directed by music director Jeremy Burke.
Throughout the production, Cayde Solet, acting in the role of school announcer Jane Scott, regularly appears with important announcements to fill in the blanks as the story progresses.
One of the most impressive young actors is Meyah Goldhar in the role of Cathy the Cheerleader. Her knack for moving, and admittedly, grooving, to the music, is a must to see. Even when the music is not playing, she is still a force to be viewed. Her ability to strike a pose is simply magical. It turns out, as she tells Eyes on Windsor, she just loves dancing. This is her first time on the stage and no doubt she will be seen more often in the years ahead but before that she plans to study meditation.
Gemma Cunial is the production’s director. She is also the creative innovator behind the Chrysler Company which, for the past six years, has operated a theatrical summer camp. The actors, ranging in age from 8 to 14, have a collective talent well beyond their calendar ages.
Other cast members are Sienna Gidillini, Matt Verzosa, Luke Taylor, Shaila Goldhar, Meyah Goldhar, and Huxlee Ball.
The musical is based on the Disney movie based on David Simpatico’s book with music & lyrics by Matthew Gerrard, Bryan Louiselle, Faye Greenberg, David N. Lawrence, Greg Cham, Robbie Nevil, Ray Cham, Drew Seeley, Randy Petersen, Kevin Quinn, Adam Watts, Andy Dodd and Jamie Houston.
High School Musical Jr. runs at the Chrysler Theatre (201 Riverside Drive W), for two performances: March 1st at 2pm and 7pm. Tickets are $10 for general admission. Doors open at 1:30pm for the 2pm show, and 6:30pm for the 7pm show. Tickets can be purchased at chryslertheatre.com, through the Chrysler Theatre box office (519-252-6579), or at the door.
Article by Robert Tuomi
For over a decade, Robert has covered local news and community events. Initially as a contributor to CBC Radio’s local morning show and then as the long-time producer and host of CJAM’s The Rest of the News and as a journalist at the Windsor Square. A graduate of the Nikon School of Photography he enjoys illustrating his reports with what he sees through his camera’s lens.