The final curtain has been drawn, the cast has taken its final bows, and the revival of the WCA Drama club is complete. After two years in which WCA focused on rebuilding membership and interest in the drama program, director Dan Stec brought a fantastic version of High School Musical to life on the WCA cafetorium stage last weekend. Students are still humming and singing the lyrics to the show’s musical numbers, and are excitedly looking forward to next year’s production.
The stage had been set, no pun intended, through the development of the Drama Club by both Stec, who concentrated last year on improving the high school students’ comfort in front of an audience through their Night at the Improv event, and through the development of talented players in younger grades by Lower School drama director Cathy Naylor. Naylor led the past two season musicals, which focused in on elementary grade students, with assistance from middle and high school students (and even some faculty and staff). Both How to Color Your Cardboard Box and Finding Franklin helped younger drama players, especially many middle school students, prepare for the rigors, stage presence and projection that would be needed to contribute with the Upper School play.
For those who have not seen the original movie or subsequent on stage productions, the story of High School Musical revolves around school basketball jock Troy Bolton (played by junior Carson Henley) and Gabrielle Montez, a new student to fictional East High. East High is a heavily clique-driven high school (as so many are) and when Troy and Gabrielle are thrust into a position of stepping outside the box to audition for the school musical, substantial friction develops between Troy (Carson Henley) and his basketball teammates (Jalen Vaughan as Troy’s right-hand man Chad Danforth), Gabrielle (Lainey Flanagan) and her Math team (led by Taylor McKessie, played by senior Jordan Wright), and the reigning drama diva Sharpay Evans (Lela Butler) and sidekick Ryan Evans (Kailey Watson). In an environment used to students staying inside the comfort of the status quo, Troy and Gabrielle push through and open the minds of their classmates that an existence outside of their cliques is not only allowed, but fun as well.
The casting decisions were made by Stec earlier in the year prior to Christmas break, and rehearsals started after the break. Many casting decisions made were certainly interesting, as two middle school students, 6th grader Sara Robson and 7th grader Connor Sullivan, were chosen to play the two primary adult parts in the play: ‘Darbus the Deranged’, the eccentric but passionate drama teacher, and Coach Bolton, head coach of the Wildcat basketball team and dad of main character Troy Bolton. Both turned into great decisions, as Robson turned in some of the most dazzling and hilarious performances in the production, and Sullivan proved capable of delivering the adult-level frustration required of Coach Bolton.
The focus in the production, however, was certainly on the primary six cast members listed above. Veteran drama club member Carson Henley worked the role of Troy Bolton, leader of the Wildcat basketball team, and had great chemistry with Lainey Flanagan’s Gabrielle. Vaughan, an absolute visual shoo-in for teammate Chad, not only looked the part with his perfect hair, but delivered lines like someone actually on a basketball team (Vaughan is a starter for the Eagles Varsity team). On the other side, Wright’s playing of the cerebral Mckessie was spot-on and helped develop a palpable ‘us vs. them’ feel to the two groups attempting to wrest Troy and Gabrielle from each other for the benefit of their respective teams.
Two of the most dynamic parts of High School Musical are the sassy and diabolical Sharpay Evans, and her willing but hesitant accomplice at times, Ryan. In the original picture, Ryan is actually the twin brother of Sharpay, but due to the range of the female auditioners, Stec chose Watson to play as a sister vice brother to Butler’s Sharpay. Butler’s playing of the part was, simply put, incredible. Butler showed an immense capability to put across the cattiness that truly exemplifies Sharpay Evans, and in some respects, perhaps even better than the Hollywood actress from the original picture, Ashley Tisdale. Her ability to put across a level of ‘diva-ness’ towards others in her way provided many of the biggest laughs in the entire performance. Contrasting Sharpay’s bitter sarcasm and deviousness was Watson’s Ryan, with Watson playing an amazing ‘tag-a-long’ role with a beaming stage smile and effervescence that added to the relative innocence of Ryan Evans. Together they were the perfect casting fit for two very critical roles.
Butler and Wright were not only primary cast members for the show. Each had additional responsibilities, Wright as Student Director, and Butler as Choreographer. Given the restraints of our stage and available space, adjustments needed to be made to the musical numbers to fit all the ensemble members onto the stage and perform dance numbers. Butler coordinated all of the choreography for the many dance scenes in the production.
High School Musical truly seemed to work extremely well for the cast at WCA. Director Dan Stec explained why best in his Playbill Director’s notes, ‘The cast you see before you this evening are not just the drama club. You have basketball players, soccer players, golfers, students carrying three Advanced Placement classes, artists, championship swimmers, church volunteers, musicians, students with jobs, seniors preparing for college and sixth-graders just figuring out what this next step is all about. This production, these Wildcats, selected this show because they have already looked at the status quo and decided it wasn’t for them. What an honor it has been to be their director.‘ Well said for sure.
The production was also a success at the ticket office, as the three shows combined sold over 350 tickets, which actually resulted in a positive net income for the entire effort! Please see the link below to the production Playbill!
Click on the ‘Full Screen’ icon in the lower right of the box above to zoom in on Playbill contents.