Review: It’s the ‘High School Musical’ you know and love — only better | Local News

RICK BROWN, Yard Light Media

KEARNEY — Everything about “High School Musical” grabs the attention of the audience: The bright red costumes, the expansive set, the uptempo songs, the hyperactive choreography, the energy of the cast — and the energy of the cast.

Why say it twice? From the opening number, “Wildcat Cheer,” the energy of the show takes over and propels this sparkling production by Crane River Theater. The music and writing establishes a baseline of energy, but under the direction of Steve Barth, the cast of 35 performers takes that energy and gives it a boost. The infectious nature of the show stems mostly from that energy and it feels wonderful to experience it on the outdoor stage of the Cope Amphitheater at Yanney Heritage Park.

And then there’s the plot.

Anyone familiar with the “High School Musical” franchise — it includes a TV series, a movie and a stage play — already knows the nature of the beast. This story feels as wholesome as a 1940s musical and, let’s be honest, “High School Musical” merely allows the cast to dance and sing all over the huge stage of the Cope Amphitheater.

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Thankfully, this group of highly talented performers works a large dose of magic, inviting audience members to disregard the flimsy plot.

Crane River Theater presents “High School Musical” continuing nightly through July 2 with no performances on Sundays. Admission to the show is $5 per person.

Teenager Troy Bolton (Bryant Cobb) meets Gabriella (Hannah Matusow) on a ski trip. Through some improbable twist of fate, they end up attending the same high school in Albuquerque where they secretly hope to develop their relationship. Unfortunately so many things stand in the way of true love, namely Sharpay (Lillie Langston), a selfish, petty and demanding girl who orders Troy around like a puppet.

Toss in “the big game” and “the school musical,” a host of outsized personalities and it quickly becomes clear that this production is all about fun, dancing and singing. Sure, there’s a small bit about character development but the show seeks mainly to entertain.

With a cast of budding professionals to seasoned community members, Barth has directed the show with skill and dexterity. He composes the scenes with careful perfection, using blocking members to direct the attention of audience since the sun provides the only available lighting.

Choreographer Noelle Bohaty creates moving pictures with her work. She gives the cast plenty of opportunities to show off their dancing skills and talents, including carefully composed cheer routines that exude elements of modern dance. She knows how to create snappy routines that take advantage of the expansive set. Dance captain Rebekah Petersen keeps the movement fresh and accurate through her work.

Before the start of the musical, audiences get to see the work of scene designer Alyssa Sutherland. Through a series of platforms and a large turntable, she has filled the stage with enough lumber to create several houses. Regardless of the board feet of lumber, Sutherland designed a set that resembles a gym, complete with a gym floor. Lockers flank the sides of the stage, giving the performers a place to play out scenes taking place in school hallways. Some of the lockers are even customized with a faux fur lining, just like a real high school, filled with young people seeking to assert their individuality.

Every cast member performs at such a high level that things like a weak plot, shallow characters and predictable situations get quickly excused. In a world of such stress and uncertainly that exists beyond the safety of the stage, attending “High School Musical” allows audience members to give in to the razzle and dazzle of this production. It allows audience members of all ages to simply enjoy the energy, the dancing, the music and the magic that happens with outdoor theater. Bring lawn chairs or blankets, maybe a snack and prepare yourself for the joy of “High School Musical.”

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