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Scenes 4 tweens

Troy, Gabriella, and the HSM2 crew put the music in them. Now our two quasi-theater critics are trying to get it out.


When I was a teenager, all I ever longed for was to live in a world where it was socially acceptable, nay, a social requirement, to frequently burst into song. As a musical-theater enthusiast (some, especially sneering jocks, may use the word "geek"), the 15-year-old Sara would daydream about a life less ordinary, a life more musical, where the sun was always shining and there was always a fresh-faced tenor on hand, ready to harmonize and to pronounce his feelings about volleyball and math class and after-school jobs through the power of an eleven o'clock number. A life not unlike those depicted in High School Musical, or its successors, the second of which recently sashayed its way from the small screen to the local stage, at the financially beleaguered North Shore Music Theatre (NSMT). Chris?

Since ninth grade, Sara, my slang and demeanor have been inspired by Mobb Deep and Wu-Tang, so my high-school experience was a lot like a musical. While most people had soundtracks during their glory days, I took it much further by legitimately acting out the thug-life mayhem ringing through my speakers. I was — and still am, in many ways — living proof that music makes the monster. So considering that my high school was something like a cross between Kids and Outside Providence — a synthetically fueled countryside rap orgy in which no act of nihilism or degeneracy was out-of-bounds — I expected that High School Musical would hardly resemble the real thing as I knew it. But boy, oh, boy, was I mistaken. The story is all about rising up against the man and kicking chickenheads to the curb. What could be more hip-hop than that?

If you're unfamiliar with High School Musical 2 — or, as the hip kids refer to it, HSM2 please, allow me. The Disney tween-star vehicle spins the cheesetastic tale of Troy and Gabriella, the alpha lovebirds of Albuquerque's East High (Go Wildcats!) and their friends, a gaggle of can-do kids who all take summer jobs at the ritzy Lava Springs Country Club. All, of course, except for the mega-rich and mega-evil Sharpay and her mega-rich and mega-closeted brother, Ryan. Sharpay and Ryan's daddy owns Lava Springs, so there ain't no way no how those brats are lifting a finger, except to flip off Gabriella, who Sharpay wants to oust from Troy's life, so she can have him for herself. Scheming, warbling, and peppy Zeitgeist dialogue ensue.

Like I said — in many ways this plot resembles reality so uncannily that it's eerie. In HSM2 (which is vaguely similar to its distant pornographic cousin, BDSM2), aspiring male Abercrombie & Fitch models are rewarded with cute, sniveling, materialistic twats who ruthlessly lust for them, regardless of caste discrepancies. Furthermore, there's a white girl who speaks like a hood rat, a handful of black kids who sound like Carlton Banks, and a mean old boss who is a real asshole. Most important, as Sara explained, much of the story takes place at a country club, which is realistic, since most people spend their teenage summers driving either Titleists or golf carts around manicured fairways. I'm not sure if it's because my own high-school nostalgia has been romanticized by and interspersed with scenes from The Karate Kid, Caddyshack, and The Goonies, but I'm beginning to have flashbacks.

As I'm sitting in the enormous theater-in-the-round NSMT (which just this past week announced that it would need to raise $4 million by the spring or it would be forced to close — hey, now that sounds like a story that Disney can get behind! Maybe the lovable little theater-that-could should put on a show to raise the money, and a grizzly old benefactor with a heart of gold but nobody to love can sprinkle the troubled nonprofit with cash!), I can't help but have my own flashbacks. I, too, once spent a summer as hired help bandying about a country club, executing mundane tasks with the enthusiasm that only a broke teenager can muster. I hated my boss, I had a crush on the boy with the dimples, and, sometimes, when no one else was around, I hummed softly to myself, imagining that a synthesized soundtrack swelled beneath me as my voice soared.

(You're right. I didn't have a lot of friends. But what I did have was a song in my heart and, after a while, cash in my pocket.)

Actually, the genius about HSM2 is that it appeals to adults as much as it does their snot-nosed spawn. The sole character over the tender age of 16 is the evil boss, Mr. Fulton, who cracked a joke about the "Island of Misfit Toys" that I, as an old-school Yukon Cornelius super fan, was, surely, the one person in the house to appreciate. And, of course, there are the tiny details that only a grown-up, or, in Faraone's case, a dirty-old-man-in-training, would notice, as evidenced by his beer-drenched whisper when Sharpay bent over during a dance number: "Dude, I think that girl has a tramp stamp!"

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  Topics: Theater , Disney , North Shore Music Theatre , Sara Faith Alterman ,  More more >
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