GEORGINA BENISON –
Rumour has it that the High School Drama Department at the American International School Muscat is turning professional at the Bosch Centre for Performing Arts, so good was their recent production, under the expert guidance of their intrepid Director, Kris Hovland. There may be some exaggeration in the claim, given that the 30 talented students rehearse after a full-day’s study, but they reached new heights of excellence in their latest offering, the Disney On-Stage version of “High School Musical”, presented for three performances last weekend.
For those unfamiliar with the plot, the show opens with an updated parallel to its predecessor, “Grease”, set 40 years earlier. In 2006, Troy, a student at East High School, Albuquerque, goes skiing in the break and meets a girl, Gabriella, not on the ski-slopes, but at a Karaoke bar one evening – another holiday romance as catalyst. Skip on to Monday morning, first day back at school, and who should appear by the lockers but Science whiz-kid and new arrival, Gabriella. Themes of loyalty, team-work and expectations evolve, of course tinged with hilarious counter-plots of jealousy and rivalry, eventually resolved by a realisation that each character should fulfil their inner dreams and not succumb to peer pressure. The school offers three clubs which demand commitment and talent from their members: the Wildcat Basketball team, complete with its own posse of six Cheer-Leaders; Ms Darbus’ Drama Group and Taylor’s nerdy Science Club – all competing for pressing deadlines.
Some students at TAISM have been regularly involved in music-drama productions and it has been fascinating to watch them grow and develop in thespian ability. Ethan Brink is immediately recognisable for his beautiful singing voice, and here he was well cast as Coach Bolton’s son Troy, a brilliant ball-player but wanting to find his own voice on the stage too. With him as the geeky, squeaky-clean Maths and Science nerd, Reem Al Yafaey as Gabriella was also well-placed for her beautiful, confident singing voice and petite good-looks. Opposite them in every sense was the superstar of slapstick – the rival you are supposed to hate for her conniving jealousy, but actually adore for her quick-witted tongue – Annie Griffin. Her twin brother Ryan, stooge and equally captivating performer was the talented Juan Quintana Lopera. Their voices blended beautifully and their final routine in “Bop to the Top” was stunning. Credit for the dance routines from soloists, Wildcat Cheer-leaders AND the Jocks themselves (who perform a well-synchronised ball-game, dressed in team strip in “Get’cha Head in the Game”) must go to choreographer extraordinaire, Loralea Wood. The imaginative wardrobe and props department was headed by Kendra Kuti. Ananya Chawla was superb as budding Scientist and lead Brainiac, Taylor, and her mature singing voice was given fine vent in “Cellular Fusion”. Later, “Counting On You” paired her delightfully with Stefan Chordas as Chad.
The Finale to Act 1 was a brilliant piece of self-examination and honesty. In “Stick to the Status Quo” Zeke, played with appropriate teenage angst and attitude by Owen Pearson, owns up to being a closet Baker – and being secretly besotted with the beguiling Sharpay. Martha was played by Hamda Qaiser’s best shot yet, with some engaging singing, and Ripper by the inimitable Hisham Bukhari, who admits to being a secret Cellist! The sequence ended with Zeke trying to present Sharpay with a cream-cake as a token of his admiration, but it goes predictably wrong and in a final burlesque is slapped all over her!
The Musical in preparation, “Juliet and Romeo”, is a feminist reworking of Shakespeare’s tragedy. It is being composed by goofy music student, Kelsi, portrayed by the real-life piano-student, Emma Larson, in a credible role which develops from self-conscious loner to a popular, creative protagonist. She eventually pairs up with school Intercom operator, the mumbling Jack Scott played at speed by Josh Greene, who uses outdated 1970s-speak, much to everyone’s amusement. Drama-queen teacher, Ms Darbus, was perfectly over-acted by Emilie Serna. Her bitter rival for the students’ time is the failed sportsman and bully, Coach Bolton, played convincingly by a mature Matthew O’Brien. He is finally reconciled with his now singer-son, Troy, and falls into Ms Darbus’ arms!
The singing was coached by Music Director, Andrew Elbin, who helped some of the most touching, moving moments in the show . “What I’ve Been Looking For” was hilariously spoofed at the auditions by the twins – singing out of time in a parody of Jazz dance – and correctly interpreted by Troy and Gabriella in the reprise, show-casing their well-matched voices to the best, while reflecting their lanky, awkward teenage self-consciousness. Later, their romantic coming-of-age duet, “I can’t take my eyes off of you” in the Secret Garden began to sound confidant and credible, without any palpable chemistry developing. Set construction, painting, backstage crew, light and sound were all facilitated by helpful Senior students under staff guidance. Watch this space to see what TAISM come up with next. It is certainly a hard act to follow!