Fans, actors enthusiastic at musical's opening

Staff WriterApril 26, 2007 

— Hundreds of "tweens" got a misleading lesson at Memorial Auditorium Wednesday night: High school is a riot.

Opening night of Disney's brisk and lighthearted "High School Musical" made it easy to forget the angst, exams, acne, homework and fragile alliances that mark a typical high school year.

But the capacity crowd on opening night of this 11-show, sold-out run wasn't looking for a replication of real life. What they wanted was something close to the wildly popular television movie that launched this new musical, as well as a forthcoming Broadway-style tour, feature film and ice show. And they got it in the co-production by N.C. Theatre and Broadway Series South, the Triangle's biggest youth production ever.

The predominantly tween-girl audience shrieked like pep rally die-hards when the lights fell in the theater. They roared when drama teacher Ms. Darbus made the kids in detention imitate animals, and James the earthworm (Conor Lillis) wriggled laboriously across the classroom floor. They groaned when the bell-bottomed Alan (Curtis Brown) whimpered through his high school musical audition.

One sassy girl even heckled the catty Sharpay (Cameron Wade) after she speculated that superstar jock Troy Bolton (Jamey Benson) adored her.

"Not!" barked the tween, giving voice to a sea of Sharpay foes.

But the children focused intently as Troy and the sweet brainiac Gabriella (Jenny Gulley) grew to adore each other, despite their disparate cliques.

"Gabriella is sooooo gorgeous!" Grayson Lowe, 10, of Raleigh gushed to her pals at intermission.

By the time Troy and Gabriella hugged for the first time in Act II, Grayson and her friends were practically falling out of their seats, bouncing and gesturing giddily to each other. They knew the Big Kiss would not be far behind.

The tale had its boy fans, too, and not just because it has basketball in it.

"This is awesome," said Cameron Varney, 11, from Wendell, a theater nut. "At the beginning, it's very stereotyped, but at the end they all realize that it really isn't what's outside that matters; you can do all sorts of things and you shouldn't be judgmental."

Staff writer Orla Swift can be reached at 829-4764 or orla.swift@newsobserver.com.

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