I kid you not, for my thirty-first birthday last year, my dad paid extra to get me a High School Musical cake. It had lots of festive red frosting and a circular red High School Musical CD holder with the image on it of the six lead cast members jumping in the air (FYI, the cheap thing can’t actually hold CDs). I had never seen High School Musical (I don’t have cable or tweens), but if my dad picked that out for his musical-loving son, I figured it was time I get down to business.
I got High School Musical and High School Musical 2 from the library.
High School Musical is what it is. It’s a Grease rip-off that celebrates musicals and wholesomeness with little that is clever or original. It has some energetic dance numbers staged in the classic “imaginary audience” fashion of the 1930s and 1940s with cast members that display a wide range of musical abilities from impressive (Lucas Grabeel, who looks like he could pass for Cheyenne Jackson’s younger brother) to not so impressive (Vanessa Hudgens). At the same time, it’s not hard to see why kids (and a few adults) have eaten it up (though, as a middle school director I know pointed out, no one seems to question why the siblings are trying to get the romantic leads in the school play).
High School Musical 2 is a change in two ways. The music and choreography take a big step up with moves that are more energetic, complicated, and overall impressive, a variety of the numbers requiring more complicated moves. While the acting is still overall Nickelodeon-annoying, the same cast members seem to excel—Lucas Grabeel and Monique Coleman still being tops. Directed by Kenny Ortega, High School Musical 2 even has a fun homage to Esther Williams during Sharpay’s clever “Fabulous” number. Storywise, however, the movie falters. The original film’s story was nothing special, but at least it kept moving in a forward motion. Here, the plot begins is stagnate midway through and never really picks up steam.
For what it’s worth High School Musical 3 is a big step down from the other two films in both story and music. In plotting, there is very little happening, and the story almost entirely lacks forward motion. Instead of a strong central conflict that moves to a climax, the movie consists of loosely connected events that don’t really add up to anything. The plot seems a mish-mash of ideas, which may explain the void of logic in the series of events.
Oddly enough, the High School Musical series is more realistic than many other high school movies because of its desire to unite students rather than capitalize on perceived cliques and group stereotypes. For example, the overweight cheerleaders who are not bearing abs are pretty much a dead-on portrayal of every high school sports game I’ve been to. That said, any semblance of reality disappears in the structure of putting on a high school play. Characters drop in and out of the show at will, understudies are assigned for some characters and not for others, the understudies are deemed as important but never are rehearsed, and dedicated theatre students like Troy don’t even bother to show up for opening night. One major plot point involves a student missing out on the end of senior year to head off to a college camp, which, of course, is ludicrous. It’s as if the writers knew they were creating something intended for kids and didn’t bother to revise anything.
Musically, the show opens very weak. Instead of having a strong opening number (like “What Time Is It” from 2), the first song is garbled in a basketball game, unclearly staged and the lyrics muddled by the action. There’s a nice dance number for Troy and Gabrielle, and there’s some clever ideas in the junkyard number “The Boys are Back,” but it does nothing to rival the energy and staging of 2. Just as Ortega hearkened back to Esther Williams in 2, here he calls back to Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling in Royal Wedding (Ortega is too big a fan of old musicals for it to have come from Lionel Richie or NSync) in a stunning number feature Zac Efron. The number that really makes its mark, however, is the final number “High School Musical,” the only song to revival the hits from the past two movies.
What all this means is that I was bored out of my mind during High School Musical 3, simply because there was no forward motion in the plot and the numbers rarely dazzled in the way they did in High School Musical 2. I love getting to see any big screen musical packed with dancing and fun, but I only wish I didn’t spend so much of the movie wanting to leave.
That said, Izzy enjoyed it. As bored as I was, watching her dance along with Troy and Chad in the junkyard made it all worth the while. And that’s why I love the High School Musical series. Plot, intelligence, and music quality all seem so unimportant when what is there is creating a huge new audience for film and stage musicals at a level they understand.
the Broadway Mouth
January 16, 2009