By Jess Scarano, McLean High School
Staying true to yourself and embracing what is in your heart, no matter what the social norms may be, is a challenging part of adolescence. In its endearing production of High School Musical, Freedom High School brings to life the classic “don’t judge a book by its cover” story and explores issues of both identity and friendship.
Based on a Disney Channel original movie, High School Musical features a book by David Simpatico, music by Bryan Louiselle, and lyrics by Matthew Gerrard, Faye Greenberg, David N. Lawrence, and others. The US tour began in 2007 and ran for approximately a year. The story begins when Troy Bolton, star of the basketball team, and Gabriella Montez, math and science whiz, meet over winter break. When the two reconnect at school, they sign up for the winter musical. However, multiple forces, including crazy drama club members, the basketball team, and the Scholastic Decathlon team, conspire against them.
Playing the role of Gabriella Montez with a soft confidence, Sydney Calvelli embodied her character’s timid nature poignantly. Calvelli demonstrated emotional vocals, particularly during her solo number “When There Was Me and You” and had cute moments with her love interest Troy Bolton, played by Duncan MacLean. MacLean had consistent energy as the Jock leader and demonstrated notable vocals throughout the show.
The actress who really stole the show was Ashley Nguyen in the role of the saucy Sharpay Evans. Nguyen was a triple threat: her voice carried many of the musical numbers, her sharp movements demonstrated exceptional dance talent, and her ability to form believable relationships with other actors was amazing. Sharpay worked side-by-side with her twin Ryan Evans (Ethan VanSlyke) to portray a deviously sassy duo that never failed to bring laughs. VanSlyke’s comedic timing was on point, moving the show along and bringing life to the stage. Another source of verve was the Dance Corps ensemble. The dancers, especially Courtney Galpin (Dancer #4), beautifully filled up the stage and dazzled the audience with impressive turns and technique.
The whole cast brought heart and soul to the show-stopping number “Stick to the Status Quo.” Everyone on stage cleanly executed the choreography and filled the entire auditorium with spirit. One standout was Josh Lee in the role of Zeke Baylor. Lee had a nervous energy that made his character hilarious to watch, and in addition to his commendable acting, he had a fantastic voice. Not to be forgotten is Emily Sorber (Ms. Darbus), the wacky East High Drama teacher. Sorber had a natural stage presence that made her persona seem both genuine and authentic.
The technical elements of the show enhanced the entire experience for the audience, drawing it into East High School with a giant set, color-coordinated costumes, and vibrant lighting effects. Not only did the costume crew successfully outfit a large ensemble, but it also took time to accessorize each main character – a shimmering shirt for Sharpay, a simple red dress for Gabriella, and a basketball jersey for Troy – to accentuate their personalities. The costumes popped even more with help from the lighting team. Through the use of spotlights, the lighting crew effectively emphasized various characters and points of action.
High School Musical is a movie that most of us grew up with. Freedom High School reveals a different side of the story with its inspiring production that teaches everyone that the status quo was meant to be broken.
[The writer, Jess Scarano is a student at McLean High School. This review is part of a series published in a partnership between Loudoun Now and The Cappies, a writing and awards program that trains high school theatre and journalism students to be expert writers, critical thinkers, and leaders.]