Tuesday, August 18, 2009
The Real Critics Editor/PublisherBroadway reviews are great for youth theatre because it gives many young thespians a chance to shine and grow rather than just a few leads. Riverside Youth Theatre’s “On Broadway Now!” production was not only an obvious thrill for the performers, but also for the audience.
The show featured various musical numbers from productions that were on Broadway in 2009. Shows included “Jersey Boys,” “Hair,” “Legally Blonde,” “Grease,” “Spamalot,” “Mary Poppins,” “Next to Normal,” “Shrek the Musical,” “The Little Mermaid,” and “Young Frankenstein.” But the shows that I was really thrilled to see on the docket were “13” and “Spring Awakening.”
Disney’s High School Musical performed by Riverside Youth Theatre
Can jock Troy Bolton and brainiac Gabriella Montez find romance without peer pressure interfering? Possibly, if they both agree to meet on the neutral ground of their high school’s drama department. Though that’s hardly neutral ground so far as the school’s prima donna thespian star Sharpay Evans is concerned, as Sharpay wants Troy for herself. Almost as much as she wants the lead role for herself!
The popular Disney Channel movie has become a phenomenon on youth stages across the country, filling up every seat in the house. As it did in Riverside Youth Theatre’s recent production where Director Debbie Wolgemuth and her cast and crew treated their audience to a very fun, often creative, and always energetic performance.
They begin their production the way the film does, with the New Year’s Eve party where Troy and Gabriella get pushed together into a karaoke song, surrounded by partygoers who begin dancing to The Start of Something New. Brad Stephens plays a likeable Troy Bolton. Heather Noriega gives Gabriella a very real personality, beginning as a shy and reluctant singer who slowly feels more and more comfortable with Troy. Together they do a nice job with their duets.
Sallie C. Griffin is a flirty and funny Sharpay with great personality as the jealous diva, but with a fragile side hiding just underneath, scared no one will care about her if she’s not a star. Aaron Wolgemuth is her eight seconds-younger twin brother who is just beginning to assert himself, but he has no trouble asserting himself in their auditions when he shakes his groove thing, with Sallie and Aaron demonstrating great charisma and moves in What I’ve Been Looking For and Bop to the Top. But Troy and Gabriella aren’t their only competitors in those auditions. The school’s theatre director Mr. Darbus desperately seeks out other auditions from the audience. When a young girl pipes up and sings a few lines of What I’ve Been Looking For, Sharpay glares angrily and nervously at both her new rival and at Mr. Darbus for giving the girl a chance.
Said Mr. Darbus is given truly a singular performance by Brian Jerz who offers a flamboyant and creative take on the male version of Darbus, adding to the role in many successful ways and doing it all with terrific expressions and bodylanguage. He lectures like an over-the-top Shakespearean monologue, punctuates all of the amusing auditions with hilarious reactions, and fights with melodramaticgusto his nemesis basketball coach (played by the adult member of the cast, Michael Lankford, who is in a constant state of rage). And Brian does it all in one outrageous costume after another, from a fancy bandleader get-up to a black leather vest suit to some glittery stuff.
Other highlights include a well-choreographed Keep Your Head in the Game featuring the basketball players, some amusingly artsy thespians, and some especially high-energy injections by an enthusiastic and talented group of cheerleaders (partially choreographed by one of the standout cheerleaders Alison Ogilvie) who rally the high school for the big basketball game with Pump Up the Jam and some techno music. It all ends on a strong note with the big cast number We’re All in This Together that has Mr. Darbus pulling dance partners out of the first row of seats and gets followed by a standing ovation.
Performed May 11-20, 2007.Rob Hopper
National Youth Theatre
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