Live, back stage Saturday night with High School Musical

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A double dose of "High School Musical" was live on the Marshall County Community Theatre stage Saturday when Disney's movie star delivered the "Saturday Night Live" opening monologue thereby creating an ironic twist on art imitating life.

Zac Efron portrays East High School basketball star Troy Bolton in the "High School

Musical" movies and, during NBC's Saturday night show, he thanked his fans for his success, but confessed that he's "a college-age man pretending to be a high school student."

Rachel Faulkner gets ready for her perfomance in "High School Musical."

The twist was several hours earlier. Rachel Faulkner, a Lewisburg Middle School student, was applying stage makeup for the fourth of six performances of "High School Musical" in which she plays Gabriella Montez, girlfriend of Troy Bolton.

Is the musical a realistic portrayal of high school life?

"Definitely realistic," replies Faulkner who refines her answer by saying, "I think it's a lot nicer than high school life, but I don't know. I'm not in high school."

So a college age man might know what it was like in high school. But for the 14-year-old daughter of Elizabeth and Mike Faulkner, "It's new" to be portraying a high schooler, she said.

There are other comparisons to be made between the Lewisburg cast of "High School Musical" and "Saturday Night Live."

Doug May, the 15-year-old son of Amy and Jeff May of Farmington, portrays Ryan Evans, the second leading male in the play. While wearing a T-shirt from last year's production of "Urinetown," Doug May pulls on pants on top of pants after apparent high jinks betrayed by an 8-1/2-by-11-inch paper sign naming his dressing room the Boobie Bungalow. May's natural smile and camera camping make him a candidate to be the John Belushi of Marshall County even though Belushi died a dozen years before May was born.

Whether Lewisburg's cast of "High School Musical" saw "Saturday Night Live" that night is irrelevant because since that TV show started broadcasting its nutty comedy, the Internet has become the place to see practically everything, except real live theatre, and for that matter, real life which was so evident in the audience and on the public square after the show.

It's too bad photos couldn't be taken during the show because much of the fun came at the end of the show when the audience clapped in time to the music as the cast came off the stage and sang in the aisles. Some of the girls in the play went into the rows of seats and danced with little girls who don't appear to be tweens yet.

Prohibition of picture-taking during the show came with the price-tag of royalties for the show which, when combined with rental material, cost the community theater about $3,500, according to Alva Cavnar, director of the play whose day job is as a chemistry teacher at Marshall County High School.

As popular as the musical movie has been, it's possible some people don't know the story. It's hard to ruin the plot, though. It's a tried and true storyline.

"It's a love story. Boy meets girl. They have a complication and they get back together," Cavnar said.

Asked if there's a love triangle, Cavnar replies: "Triangle? No. This is Disney. There is no triangle."

"It's Disney's 'High School Musical' that's been on TV and has taken the world by storm," she continued. "Children around the world are enthralled with this venue that Disney put together.

"What the whole thing is about is not being afraid to be yourself," Cavnar said.

There is conflict for the story.

The thespian brother and sister team "don't like the new girl (Gabriella) because she's getting into their musical theater territory, so Sharpay and Ryan don't like this infringement," Cavnar said.

Subplots of high schoolers realizing what makes them happy are developed through the show. A basketball player finds that he likes to bake pastries. And one of his cakes goes into the face of the second leading lady.

"She's the villain," Charleigh Cagle explains about her character, Sharpay Evans, sister of May's character, Ryan.

"She's really mean and conniving," says Charleigh Cagle, 17, daughter of Bob and Elaine Cagle in the Berlin Community. "This role is different from me."

Same for Faulkner whose Gabriella is shy, while the Marshall County girl is not, she said back stage before the show's second presentation on Saturday.

Cavnar says the play has taught the middle and high school students lessons of life: "They learn team work and that everybody is important and teamwork and their limitations."

Portraying the East High School drama teacher in the play is Quay Harris, 17-year-old daughter of Nancy and Chris Harris. The student playing a teacher acknowledges her role is that of an authority figure, but adds, "My main thing is to get the students to reach their maximum potential."

The leading man in the show is Nathan Dumser, 17-year-old son of Elise and Tom Dumser, who plays Troy Bolton, the star athlete who falls for Gabriella.

Bolton "plays basketball and gets the girl," says Dumser who carries himself in a way reminiscent of a young Peyton Manning.

Clearly the earnest young man on stage, Dumser was cast well as he seemed to shy away from the camera after the cast and audience spilled onto the sidewalk and part of Lewisburg's public square.

In contrast was the Belushi-like Doug May who had to have his brown hair died blond to match that of his theatrical sister, Sharpay. They tried to color their hair themselves, but "It didn't work, so we got it done in Shelbyville," May said.

Meanwhile, there was a more direct aspect of life imitating art as the Disney script depicted high school life with cell phones being confiscated by teachers. Recently, student use of wireless phones was a topic of concern for the Marshall County School Board. Its latest decision on the matter was against increasingly longer periods of time for phone confiscation in response to repeated use of phones at the wrong times in school. The old policy continues: Phones are confiscated; Parents must collect the phone at school, and; Students face longer suspensions for repeated offenses.

Disney scriptwriters offer a solution portrayed by Sharpay and Ryan Evans: Always carry two cellphones.

"Cellphones should be allowed in school," counters Alexia White, daughter of Carmen and Roy White, who plays one of the East High cheerleaders in the play. "Just because you have a cellphone doesn't mean you're not listening."

From the jocks in high school culture to the thespians, the cliques listed on the program do seem to portray the framework of high school life including skateboarders, cheerleaders, other students, adults and the "brainiacs."

Kelsey Keny, a 16-year-old Marshall County High School student identifies with her role of Taylor McKessie as an intellectual, although there are exceptions.

"All she cares about is school," Keny says of McKessie. "I'm more well-rounded."

If there's a character in real life that Gabriella/Rachel might be compared to it's the early career of Valerie Bertinelli who portrayed one of two daughters in Norman Lear's sitcom "One Day at a Time" televised in the late 1970s. More recently Bertinelli appeared on "Boaston Legal" and "Touched by an Angel" but might best be known now as a figure advertising Jenny Craig's weight loss program.

As for Sharpay/Charleigh, there are several bad-girl party-goers out there for comparisons but by the end of the Disney story, the villain has had a catharsis and the high schoolers are retuned to their natural selves.

Faulkner's comment on the show and its presentation here: "It's good for this town. It's a nice play."

Cavnar confirms it, quoting players and audience as saying the show provided "'The best time I've ever had.'"

There were 34 players in the cast. Their ages ranged from students in grade seven through HS, "but mostly high school," Cavnar said.

"High School Musical" has been compared to the musical "Grease," and it's perceived by players and producers as about as popular among the audiences here.

As a result, crowds were supportive, so Cavnar concludes: "We think we'll be able to pay for everything that we've spent and then some. I hope so. So we will have money to help pay for the next one."

The next play is "Alice in Wonderland." It's to be presented in the fall with a much younger cast.

Cavnar adds, "There are some people who need to be acknowledged for doing most of the work on the play." They include:

* Elaine Cagle, theatrical producer who teaches first grade at Marshall Elementary School.

* Mary Alice Ingramm, an Oak Grove Elementary School teacher who served as business manager for the show.

* Elise Dumser, choral director at MCHS, was - logically so - the play's musical director.

* Julie Plott, who teaches dance at her own studio at The Barn on Cornersville Highway, was the choreographer for the play.