Co-op Juniors bring musical to life

REPLICATING a Disney blockbuster is a challenge not for the faint-hearted. Schoolchildren up and down the land wear out the original on their DVD players, shout the words into their hairbrush “microphones”, and hero-worship the stars.

REPLICATING a Disney blockbuster is a challenge not for the faint-hearted. Schoolchildren up and down the land wear out the original on their DVD players, shout the words into their hairbrush “microphones”, and hero-worship the stars.

So, there's no wriggle-room for error.

The Co-op Juniors pulled it off last year with High School Musical and are now one of the first British amateur groups to present HSM2 on the stage. And it's stunning. So many accomplished dancers and strong singers in the same room . . .

Even the most cynical theatregoer, deriding the HSM franchise as saccharin-sweet bubblegum for impressionable pre-teen minds, could not fail to be won over by the high-energy and near-perfect rendition.

We all need a bit of magic in our lives, and the Juniors' forte has always been delivering the sparkle.

The story sees the teenagers from East High breaking up for summer and landing holiday jobs at the Lava Springs Country Club owned by the father of Sharpay Evans - queen of innovative hairstyles and favourite three subjects Me, Me . . . and Me.

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She has designs on Troy Bolton and doesn't mind whom she steamrollers to get her way.

Oliver Brett (Troy) has the hardest “ask” because of inevitable comparisons to celluloid heartthrob Zac Efron, but makes the role his own - his believable interpretation exposing both vulnerable and capable sides of Troy's character as he moves from school-corridor dude to a thoughtful young man who does the right thing.

Gabrielle Pemberton, meanwhile, presents sweetheart Gabriella Montez as a romantic young lady who is nevertheless no pushover.

Both leads have fine singing voices, with range - showcased to great effect in Gabriella's Gotta Go My Own Way and Troy's Bet On It.

The angsty scene featuring the latter is an effective gear-change away from the bouncy tempo. The simplicity of the staging, coupled with striking red-shadow lighting, creates a powerful image.

Paris Hilton lookalike Melissa Cook has real presence as spoiled-little-rich-girl Sharpay, switching from sweet but insincere manipulator to “just do it!” dictator in less time than it takes to break a false fingernail.

We mustn't forget that High School Musical 2 is an ensemble piece - the ever-dancing, ever-singing, ever-clapping energy of the indefatigable East High students, the athletic “jocks” and the Wildcat cheerleaders gives the show its “big” feel.

Roll on HSM 3.

Steven Russell

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