High School Musical at Broadway Palm Dinner Theater Is Nice Enough, but What If They Were Singing About Your High School?

Broadway Palm Dinner Theater's production of High School Musical was nice enough. My impression of the show was certainly helped by the fact that I, unlike most people my age, don't have kids between the ages of four months and 14 years, so I'm not sick to death of "Get'cha Head in the Game," the show's signature song, or of hearing about how cute Zac Efron, the star of the movie version that kicked off the global High School Musical phenomenon, happens to be. I was certainly familiar with the title and concept of the show; you'd have to have been orbiting Jupiter for the past three years to have missed this near-religion of HSM, as its mostly prepubescent followers like to call it. But while I wasn't able to join the largely preteen audience in singing along with the smallish score (HSM features only nine songs, which are reprised repeatedly), I was able to see this smaller-scale production, neatly choreographed by Amy Marie McCleary, for what it was: cute, undemanding, meant to please kids with low standards.

I thought it was clever of director M. Seth Reines to stage the show with song-and-dance talent no better than the most gifted high-schooler might possess, which gave this production a particular sincerity I liked. He was also smart to cast Nic Bryan as teen stud Troy Bolton, because Bryan is an Efron clone of sorts, with floppy brunette bangs and much of the charm and vocal prowess of the original Troy. The band played with the same ferocity and skill of a teenage garage band, and the kids (particularly Virginia Cavaliere as new girl Gabriella) sang nicely.

HSM borrows many of its plot points from Grease. A couple of teens meet on winter vacation, then wind up at the same high school together. She's the new girl, surrounded by the usual cadre of weirdos, jocks, and brainiacs. He's the BMOC, a cute basketballer with a secret passion for song. The drama club is staging a musical version of Romeo and Juliet, and a bunch of kids — including our heroes — plan to try out.

At intermission, my mind began to wander. I found myself wondering what a cute musical comedy about my high school would be like. I finally decided that Apollo High! The Musical would be about disenfranchised teens with feathered hair who are just trying to finish 12th grade, but who face challenges like learning to spell and not getting high before third period.

Act One would open with an ensemble number called "Another Day, Another C-Minus," in which we meet the main characters, each of them an archetype of high school life, all of them singing about how hard it is to concentrate on American history when you could be banging Cheryl Rivette in the janitor's closet. After a brief setup about the upcoming school play, a musicalization of Laverne and Shirley, stoner Steve Milner and slutty Denise Gilbert perform a duet called "Breaking Out," about how they long to be free from pop quizzes and popping blackheads. Raul Martinez and Linda Tipton argue about whether Mexican kids should be allowed to try out for the school musical, then science nerd Glenn Rabinowitz sings his solo, "I Would Be Cool (If I Didn't Have Zits and Braces)" from inside his own locker, where football-quarterback-slash-class-president Tommy Lofton has stuffed him.

The rest of Act One would belong to Tommy, whose parents want to move out of state right in the middle of senior year, and his new girlfriend, Jennifer Johnson, who secretly hopes Tommy will be forced to leave, so he'll never discover that she's actually half-Mexican and that the guy who cuts her lawn isn't her gardener — he's her dad. Later, Tommy and the football team sing "Get'cha Head Out'cha Ass," a song about race relations and who's hotter, Shelley Hack or Lindsay Wagner. The act would end with "Tripe Burrito," a monster production number staged in the cafetorium and danced atop Formica tables by a chorus of teens in elephant bells and Nik-Nik shirts.

Act Two, I decided, would kick off with "Mid-Term Abortion," an upbeat number in which members of the cheerleading squad bicker about which is harder to pass: a pregnancy test or a geometry exam. Amy Reilly, the squad's malicious leader, would then sing her big solo, "I'm a Bitch Because," in which she attempts to explain her rotten behavior to her fellow cheerleaders, who all hate her. Cut to a scene in which the Drama Club is holding auditions for the Laverne and Shirley musical but won't let any Mexican kids try out. A rumble ensues, and the cast sings the finale, "Apollo Rocks!," while the white kids kill and eat the brown kids, then head to Hobo Joe's for dessert.

In the real world, High School Musical eventually ended, and its young audience and their sleepy moms filed out, stopping for cell phone photographs with a giant cutout of Zac Efron, perhaps going home to dream about kissing him and being magically transformed into a sophomore. I headed for the bar in the lobby of Broadway Palm to work out the details of the sequel to my musical, which I'm thinking of calling Glendale Community College: Electric Boogaloo.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela