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Disney’s High School Musical Hits the Stage at National Theatre

Arielle Jacobs, John Jeffrey Martin and other cast members perform “Breaking Free” in Disney’s High School Musical National Tour. ©2007, Disney. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus.

The first thing you should know about High School Musical On Tour!: It is not the movie.

I didn’t expect it to be, of course. But after watching Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens’s heart-warming karaoke scene maybe a dozen times (yes, I’ve seen the movie more than some 12-year-olds), it was a little disconcerting that the stage version opens with lead characters Troy (John Jeffrey Martin) and Gabriella (Arielle Jacobs) already at East High. And to see that Troy’s sidekick Chad (Shakiem Evans) didn’t have big, curly hair and was more flat-out attractive than baby-face cute.

But I got over it pretty quickly.
The plot that unfolded Tuesday night was the same story of sweet high school romance and typical high school jealousy, with the overarching message that you—as Troy and Gabriella instruct us in a song—don’t have to stick to the status quo. If you haven’t seen the movie, a quick overview: Troy, the school’s biggest basketball star, and Gabriella, the new girl who’s trying to shake her brainiac image, do an impromptu audition for the school musical—and get a callback. This shakes up the rest of the students, who aren’t ready to accept that people can stray from their cliques to try something new.

The parts that were rewritten to fit the stage (for example, a laptop video chat became a cell-phone conversation) didn’t seem out of place. The show had all the songs plus a few extras, including DVD bonus track “I Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” And most important, the cast, well, rocked it. Chandra Lee Schwartz pulled off drama queen Sharpay’s screechy character to a T, and Ellen Harvey played the perfect Ms. Darbus, the eccentric drama teacher that every high school seems to have. During a dance scene featuring the basketball team, I held my breath waiting for someone to drop one of the dozens of balls flying around the stage. Nope. Flawless. My only complaint: At the end, Troy and Gabriella share a quick kiss. They don’t in the movie, which is part of its innocent charm.

Quick glances at the tweens around me? They were loving it—especially the little girl behind me singing along to “When There Was Me and You.”

In the end, of course, everyone is friends (case in point: The final number is called “We’re All in This Together”). Cheesy? A little bit. But you’ll walk out of the theater feeling pretty darn good.

High School Musical is at the National Theatre (1321 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-628-6161) now through February 17. Tickets start at $41.50 and are available at the National Theatre Box Office, through Telecharge at 800-447-7400, or at