High School Musical: 800-pound gorilla meets 98-pound weakling

I – gulp – teeter on the brink of being a High School Musical fan. After enduring marathons of dreck like The Wiggles and the creepy Booba as the operating cost of being a dad, HSM seems like West Side Story, only, you know, not as good. The flick is bubbly and precocious, and even a little subversive in its way, sneaking a couple of life lessons past our youth’s finely tuned anti-message filter. Musical’s subversive poster child is dog-faced beauty Ashley Tisdale, who’s blonde but not dumb. Tisdale’s theatrical portrayal of a stuck-up bitch is smart and spot-on, though her idiosyncrasies are predictably damped down in the leaden sequel, High School Musical 2. (Yep, I caught that one, as well. Do I get any credit for not having a choice?) Here’s Disney’s core flaw: The studio may be the 800-pound gorilla of franchising, but unless the word “Pixar” is in the credits, it’s the 98-pound weakling of follow-through. HSM is the rule that proves there’s no exception. Originally a left-field hit on the Disney Channel, Musical now rivals Hannah Montana for sheer money-printing power. Since it’s impossible for Disney to screw up commodification on this scale, it mucks up everything that made the thing a commodity in the first place. Doh! Or perhaps it just spreads itself too thin. Consider High School Musical: The Concert Tour. High School Musical: The Ice Tour. High School Musical: The Junior Novel. The High School Musical: Sing It! video game. The High School Musical: Get in the Picture reality-TV series. The High School Musical 3: Senior Year big-screener, coming this fall to a multiplex near you. High School Musical 4, now in the writing stages. Finally, there’s Disney’s High School Musical, a nationally touring stage adaptation of the original. The production does not feature the original cast, which seems like an important distinction for discriminating quasi-fans like me but won’t mean squat to the franchise’s core audience of 8 to 14 year old girls. The reviews from other cities, all written by people who are not 8 to 14 year old girls, skew toward enthusiastic, which most likely means that they’re Disney apparatchiks. However, one writer, Jonathan Abarbanel of www.theatermania.com, captured, I think, why I didn’t have an epileptic seizure after the fifth straight viewing of the DVD: “High School Musical is something different for a Disney show; it's about real people in urban America, not about Africa or animals or mermaids. In fact, the show is resolutely old-fashioned in form.” Old-fashioned? By jingy! If I had to be calf-roped and dragged screaming to the theater and held down in my seat by burly men with scars in order to watch a Broadway-style musical whose core appeal is to 8 to 14 year old girls, this would be it.
Tue., June 24, 7:30 p.m.; Wed., June 25, 7:30 p.m.; Thu., June 26, 7:30 p.m.; Fri., June 27, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., June 28, 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Sun., June 29, 1 & 6:30 p.m., 2008


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