Librettist David Simpatico adds a few funny lines to Peter Barsocchini’s screenplay, softens the matronly Bernhardt of a drama coach, and redeems a swishier Ryan from the domination of Sharpay. But the “original songs” by a team of tunesmiths — guitar-licked pop with a little hip-hop thrown in — are as generic as they are relentless. At NSMT, they’re performed with the requisite steamrolling pluck. Recent NYU Tisch School grad David Nathan Perlow’s Troy boasts a nice tenor voice, and he and fellow newly minted BFA Addi McDaniel, as Gabriella, produce the occasional sweet harmony. The show is directed and choreographed by incoming NSMT artistic director Barry Ivan, but the dancing lacks the propulsion and precision of the film’s Emmy-winning moves. This version, after all, had to be assailable by the amateurs as well as the professionals who make up the hardworking cast.
An argument has been floated that a stage version of the Disney Channel goldmine, which already has two sequels in the can (not to mention an ice show!), will draw its tweenage fans to live theater. Indeed, on opening night at NSMT, they were out in force, briskly snapping up T-shirts during intermission, clapping along with the musical megamix that elongates the curtain call, and seeming to approve even when the show committed the sacrilege of differing from the movie whose preachy, pep-rallying tunes they know by heart. But will this night out in Disney world send its audience streaming to Side by Side by Sondheim? More likely back to the CD player or the karaoke machine at the pajama party — or directly to the time warp where Donny and Marie await.
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