When she saw the enormous line snaking through Best Buy, past Wiis, TVs, and countless other things the twins will beg for, my wife Charlotte, who's usually far more patient and good-natured than I am, gasped and physically recoiled. Her face was an open book containing a single sentence: "Run away!"
"It's going to take forever," she whispered, wearily scanning the horizon to see if she could see Miranda Cosgrove, the bright and brassy child star of Teen Nick's webcentric kid's show iCarly, who sat at the front of the store signing copies of her CD for hundreds of little girls. Nearby, a large nervous man stammered and beads of sweat bloomed across his forehead as his smiling, empty-eyed daughter marched on. "This is a six-hour line," he hissed.
"We made it through My Little Pony Live," I said, fully realizing the coldness of my little comfort. But there was absolutely no going back now. We were going to meet Miranda Cosgrove, damn it. It had only been three days since I'd endured Circuit Playhouse's well-intended production of High School Musical, and I would happily stand in line for 16 hours (on my head, in a bucket of manure) for any bargaining chit against having to sit through High School Musical on Ice when it comes to FedExForum in September.
"It's better than Kung Fu Panda," my daughter Lucy declared as we made our way out of Circuit Playhouse, weaving through a houseful of adoring fans that had shown up at the theater for a friends- and family-night preview of HSM. Inside, a little piece of me died. Josie, her twin, revived it again briefly when she said she liked the movie better. Then she sang "Getcha Head in the Game" all the way home, and by bedtime, she was asking if she could see the musical again.
I'll admit to being charmed by Disney's squeaky-clean teen romance the first dozen times it flashed across my television screen. I was a teen in the 1980s when platitude-laden, teen-angst films were basically the Westerns, where evil jocks battled hormonal brainiacs in a winner-take-all battle for wedgie rights and total control of study hall. It was interesting to watch how all the classic stereotypes had evolved, and although the saccharine pop songs were beyond insipid, I was actually looking forward to seeing High School Musical live, because Disney's stage adaptations have exceeded all expectations since the company hired Julie Taymor to adapt The Lion King. But this was no Lion King. The stage adaptation of High School Musical is positive-message merchandising and nothing more. It's a T-shirt come to life.
Ably directed by Kevin Shaw, Circuit's HSM is a carbon copy of the film with a few extra songs. Troy, the basketball star (and son of the coach), has been in love with hot math geek Gabriella since the couple bonded over karaoke. Now they both want to break out of their respective cliques and star in their school musical.
Circuit's cast is young but strong, and they could teach the U of M Tigers a thing or two about shooting free throws. Larry Macklin and Ariél Danielle Benton, as Troy and Gabriella, have nimble, mature voices, and their harmonies intertwine like prom dates having a slow dance. Dan Floyd, Bobby Hardin, A.J. Tucker III, Lauren Shames, and Jeanie Tan are outstanding in supporting roles. Dancer Lacey Ann Thron's high-energy spins are scene-stealing, and Chelsea Fuller is wickedly ding-y as the Paris Hilton-inspired brat Sharpay. Unfortunately, the script doesn't give the characters much to do.
Much (if not all) of the actors' good work has been undermined by Peter Bryant's garishly lit set — a literal interpretation of a high school gym. The set is functional but ugly and without an ounce of poetry. None of this will matter to friends of the cast, fans of the material, or 6-year-olds.
I'm not opposed to merchandising. There's now a poster of Miranda Cosgrove in my house near an autographed copy of her CD. Because of that, I've been told I don't have to sit through High School Musical on Ice.
"But if they make Kung Fu Panda on Ice," both twins said, "we're going to see that." Deal.
At Circuit Playhouse through August 24th