Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

High School Musical
Valley Youth Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's review of Come from Away

The Cast
Photo by Candace Weir
Attracting millions of viewers and spawning several sequels, the TV musical movie "High School Musical" created a phenomenon after first premiering on the Disney Channel in 2006. Using the same basic plot and the songs from the TV film, a stage adaptation followed that has also proven to be popular for schools, regional, and youth theatres. Valley Youth Theatre's production, their first back on the Herberger Stage since the Fall of 2019, has a talented cast and sure-footed direction that results in an upbeat, warm, and winning musical comedy treat.

The plot is fairly simple. Set at East High School in Albuquerque, basketball star Troy and new student and math geek Gabriella, who previously met on New Year's Eve during their winter vacations, find themselves drawn to each other and also interested in auditioning for the school musical. However, their two cliques, the jocks and the brainiacs, force them to rethink their decision to audition and stick to the status quo, especially since they are both the champions of their respective groups and needed to help them win their upcoming basketball championship (for Troy) and the science decathlon (for Gabriella). Sharpay Evans and her twin brother Ryan are the drama stars at the school. When Sharpay feels threatened by Troy and Gabriella, and fears she and Ryan may not be cast in the leads for the upcoming school musical, she comes up with a scheme to keep them both in their cliques and far away from the drama kids. Can Troy and Gabriella find a way to make themselves and their teams happy? Will Sharpay's plan work? Will the students come out of their comfort zones to learn to express their individualities while also supporting each other?

The book by David Simpatico, which is based on the original teleplay by Peter Barsocchini, keeps the plot briskly moving ahead while doing a fairly decent job of giving enough details of the main characters to flesh them out so they aren't just stereotypes. While the story is predictable, it's still fun and charming. The score uses the popular tunes from the TV movie as well as a few new songs, even though there are some that are just average and the most memorable ones are the catchy, toe-tapping tunes from the original movie.

Director Bobb Copper does a wonderful getting realistic performances from everyone in the large cast, who all create three-dimensional characters. Jack Biddinger and Isabella Quinn form a winning twosome as Troy and Gabriella. They have realistic chemistry and generate plenty of romantic sparks in their various scenes and duets together. Biddinger's sweet voice and proficient basketball skills are matched by Quinn's exceptional singing voice and bright line delivery. As Sharpay and Ryan, Remington Rathbun and Noah Schweikert are a devilish comical duo with good singing voices and good comic delivery. Rathbun's exaggerated expressions and gestures and Schweikert's charisma make their characters audience favorites even though they are the main antagonists of the musical.

In supporting roles, Sebastian Girodroux and Jaziel Gonzalez are charming and funny as two of Troy's teammates, Chad and Zeke, and Shaylee Flanagan has wonderful stage presence as the leader of the brainiacs, Taylor. Also, Savannah Lenguyen is fun as Kelsi, the young woman who wrote the score for the musical the school is putting on, and Charlie Hall is hilarious as the school's announcer, Jack Scott. The large ensemble all get moments to shine, including Kylan Chait who gets big laughs with his portrayal of an inchworm during an audition exercise. In addition to the large teen cast, the two teachers in the show, Coach Bolton, who is Troy's dad and the coach of the basketball team, and Ms. Darbus, the drama teacher, are played by two adult actors. Eric Harding's Coach Bolton is firm but also learns to be understanding, and Mary Jane McCloskey is an absolute delight as the cooky, carefree, and comical Darbus.

Nathalie Velasquez's choreography is exceptional and features varied dance styles plus several athletic movements and is danced well by the large cast. Dori Brown's set design is simple but effective, and Jeff A. Davis' excellent lighting design washes the stage with wonderful pops of color. Karol Cooper's costumes are character specific, bright and colorful. Mark Fearey's music direction and Tristan Peterson-Steinert's conducting of the small onstage band deliver beautiful harmonies and rich notes for the upbeat pop score. On opening night there were a few microphone issues, but other than that, the sound design by Brian Honsberger delivers clear vocals and dialogue.

With toe-tapping musical numbers, energetic dance routines, characters you can identify with, and a positive message about being true to yourself and following your dreams while also sticking up for your friends, High School Musical is a charming musical the whole family can enjoy.

High School Musical runs through June 26, 2022, at Valley Youth Theatre with performances at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe Street, Phoenix AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call 602-252-8497.

Director: Bobb Cooper
Musical Director: Mark Fearey
Choreographer: Nathalie Velasquez
Set Designer: Dori Brown
Costume Designer: Karol Cooper
Lighting Designer: Jeff A. Davis
Sound Designer: Brian Honsberger

The Jocks:
Troy Bolton: Jack Biddinger
Chad Danforth: Sebastian Girodroux Zeke Baylor: Jaziel Gonzalez
Jason: William Lovell
Jock: David Robaina
The Thespians:
Sharpay Evans: Remington Rathbun
Ryan Evans: Noah Schweikert
James: Kylan Chait
Susan: Katerina Anderson
Cathy: Abbey Bernard
Alan: Noah Paz
Cyndra: Kayla Treviño
Performance Arts Kids:
Gianna Arrighi
Julia Kelly
Sahara Williams
The Brainiacs:
Gabriella Montez: Isabella Quinn
Taylor McKessie: Shaylee Flanagan
Martha Cox: Colette Davis
Kratnoff: Luke Chester
Gabriella Grasso
Michael Jaramillo
Ava Newton
Annie Rowe
The Skaters:
Ripper: Tanner Osborne
Mongo: Nate McNamara
Jolie Grimwood
Neeya Nuez
Rosa Piña
Other Students
Kelsi Neilson: Savannah Lenguyen
Jack Scott: Charlie Hall
Wildcat Cheerleaders:
Emily Anton
Maddie Sue Miller
Sage Mitchell
Gracie Palmer
The Adults
Coach Bolton: Eric Harding
Ms. Darbus: Mary Jane McCloskey