Usually coming in the June school holidays, Disney on Ice productions are a staple of kids’ entertainment in Melbourne. On top of this year’s yet-to-arrive winter offering is High School Musical: The Ice Tour.
There was no trouble packing the arena for opening night, with thousands turning up to see the brainiacs duke it out against the jocks at East High. Little girls dressed in tartan school uniforms, waving pom-poms and singing along to all the catchy tunes filled the house. Even the boys seemed to get into the spirit of the show. And once the parents could safely usher their children past the over-priced merchandise being flogged in the foyer, they too lapped up the feel-good vibe of the massive production.
The simple story has all the stereotypical drama of an American high school movie - the conflict between different cliques - basketball players, scholastic competitors and thespians all trying to fit into their social groups. But what happens when a jock wants to audition for the high school musical, singing a duet with a math nerd? Such is the simple, but effective premise whose message is that you can be whatever you want to be, despite the typecast that may be set upon you. Upbeat, rocky songs like “Stick to the Status Quo” which feature plenty of bold and effective choreography build on this idea.
Director Jeff Calhoun and production designer Jeremy Railton do a great job of creating and using a multi-dimensional moving set. With scaffolding, video back drop and moveable props like basketball hoops, a piano, and high school stadium paraphernalia, the atmosphere is created without detracting from the energetic movement. Equally so in the second half when summer holidays happen at the Lava Springs Country Club, complete with umbrellas, cabanas and golf carts rolling across the ice.
A good mix of dialogue and music creates a well-paced flow to proceedings and the narrative is easy to follow. Performances from the six leads are strong, with Australian Brad Santer as the basketball-playing protagonist Troy making young hearts swoon, in both his solo moments and duets with science geek Gabriella (Amanda Billings).
Compared to other Disney on Ice shows, especially the recently-presented Finding Nemo, High School Musical: The Ice Tour is a better production. The choreography is more effective and textured, in many parts due to the fact that there are no large furry suits or animal costumes limiting the range of the ice dancing. The characters are in human clothing and the mobility and possibilities for skating and movement are infinitely greater. Luckily the creative team takes advantage of this, producing a show that never slows down and keeps children, both small and large, thoroughly engaged and screaming for more.
Disney's High School Musical: The Ice Tour
Melbourne 4 - 8 April, Vodafone Arena
Brisbane 11 - 13 April, Brisbane Entertainment Centre
Sydney 16 - 20 April, Acer Arena
Canberra 30 April - 4 May, AIS Arena
Adelaide 9 - 11 May, Adelaide Entertainment Centre