Review: 'High School Musical' sticks to the status quo

Did someone say good, clean fun? That’s the order of the day with the national tour of Disney’s “High School Musical,” which rolled into San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre for a two-week run, and moves to San Jose in June.

Although it’s not Sondheim or Rodgers and Hammerstein, this pop-culture juggernaut’s biggest value is that it may likely be a catalyst for many youngsters’ further interest in theater.

There weren’t many huge surprises for kids and their parents in Tuesday’s opening-night audience. The show’s songs and plot stick closely to the original, a Disney Channel movie written by Peter Barsocchini that became a TV phenomenon.

Yet with clever sets, bright, colorful costumes and a won’t-quit cast of young musical theater thespians, this live version of the “you can be anything you want” story strikes a fun, even inspirational, note.

The show’s success is notable, too, given that it’s packed with run-of-the-mill, written-by-committee tunes — 13 songwriters are listed in the program — and boasts little in the way of conflict: jock-boy Troy meets brainy-girl Gabriella, both encounter difficulties when they decide to try out for the school play.

The climax doesn’t even involve the production of the East High School play, which sounds promising: a neo-feminist romance titled “Juliet and Romeo” in which the lovers live and move to Oakland.

Yet the leads are thoroughly charming. Arielle Jacobs, a Half Moon Bay native, and John Jeffrey Martin look and sound great together; they display the perfect combination of humility and chutzpah.

As Sharpay, the girl who always got the lead until Gabriella came along, Helene York is delicious in the fun villain role. Her brother Ryan (Bobby List) shows off some excellent dance moves.

Ellen Harvey plays the drama teacher Ms. Darbus with gusto. Perhaps the show’s most amusing scene is the detention period where she instructs the students in acting exercises, telling them to be animals or showing them howto handle an invisible “ball of noise.”

The bit recalls other musicals, as when the kid on the school public-address system announces to “kiss the day goodbye and point me toward detention.”

David Simpatico, who wrote this show’s book, clearly has a love of theater, giving Sharpay this priceless line: “We have to save our show from the people who think Eugene O’Neill is Shaquille O’Neal’s older brother.”

lkatz@examiner.com

IF YOU GO

Disney's High School Musical

Where: Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., San Francisco

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday; 1 p.m. Sunday; closes April 27

Tickets: $23 to $85

Contact: (415) 512-7770 or www.shnsf.com  

Note: Show runs June 10-15 at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts; call (888) 455-7469.

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