North Carolina Theatre’s high-spirited presentation of High School Musical 2 features a stellar cast, headed by Chase Peacock as East High basketball star Troy Bolton and Renée Albulario as his girlfriend and singing partner, math-whiz Gabriella Montez; spectacular sets from the show’s inaugural production at Theater of the Stars in Atlanta, GA; eye-catching costumes created by Wade Laboissonniere and Ann M. Bruskiewitz; and an exuberant NCT orchestra, under the baton of musical director Edward G. Robinson, that really knows how to rock Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, where the show’s two-week run will resume on June 16-21.
NCT artistic director Casey Hushion and choreographer Bobby Pestka have harnessed the youthful energy of the show’s mostly young and highly talented cast and channeled it into song, dance, and the angst of teenage romance. Hushion and Pestka give the show’s production numbers extra pizzazz, making this vivacious version of High School Musical 2 a must-see musical that compares favorably with many of the bus-and-truck shows that light up the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium stage.
The only nit that I could pick with the Sunday-matinee performance that I saw was an occasional glitch involving the body mics of a couple of performers. When those body mics cut out, the actors’ vocals were inaudible — but that’s a technical problem that should be easily fixed.
Chase Peacock’s charismatic characterization of Troy, the talented but financially insecure leader and star of his high school basketball team, and Renée Albulario’s passionate performance as multitalented new-girl-in-school Gabriella will not only delight the teens and tweens in the audience, but please their parents as well. For some of those teens and tweens, sadly, Troy and Gabriella are more familiar than Romeo and Juliet; and even though High School Musical 2 isn’t Shakespeare, or even High School Musical, it is highly entertaining and great fun for the entire family.
Gretchen Bieber and Jason Edward Cook are fab-u-lous — snap, snap, snap — as fraternal twins Sharpay and Ryan Evans. Bieber makes the allegedly new-and-improved Sharpay the epitome of blonde ambition, so it doesn’t take long for the old selfish and supremely self-centered Sharpay to surface and, when she does, she banishes her devoted boyfriend Zeke Baylor (Christopher Spaulding) and once again sets her cap for Troy.
Jason Cook is likewise effective as Sharpay’s sweet and sensitive brother Ryan, whose talent for musical theater may exceed her own. Josh Breckenridge adds a compelling cameo as Troy’s best friend Chad Danforth; and Krystal Joy Brown is da bomb as Chad’s girlfriend and Gabriella’s best friend Taylor McKessie.
Kaitlin Rose Mercurio is cute as East High musical prodigy, pianist, and composer Kelsi Neilsen; Jeffrey Vizcaino is in fine voice as high school PA announcer Jack Scott; Hailey Best, Heather Shaw, and Chandon Jones are babe-a-licious as Sharpay’s backup singers, Blossom, Peaches, and Violet; and Meredith Davis gets some laughs in her bit part as white cheerleader Martha Cox, whose love for hip-hop music alienates her from the snobs.
Jeffrey “JR” Richardson is a pip as Mr. Fulton, the fusspot general manager of the Lava Springs Country Club, where — thanks to Troy — all the East High gang gets summer jobs. Indeed, Richardson demonstrates that beneath Mr. Fulton’s drillmaster demeanor, there is a surprisingly sensitive man who ultimately rebels against Sharpay’s Machiavellian machinations to get Gabriella to quit her county club job, so that she can have Troy all to herself.
School’s out in the Triangle, and there’s no better way to start the summer than to join the East High Wildcats for a lively romp through their summer-vacation jobs. High School Musical 2 is a nice pick-me-up for troubled times.
High School Musical 2 continues through June 21st. See our theatre calendar for details.