PULASKI COUNTY — A local theatre company and a large ensemble cast featuring performers from all over the New River and Roanoke valleys will bring to life a stage performance of the smash teen musical success, “High School Musical,” opening this weekend on the Pulaski County High School stage.
The movie, which never actually hit cinemas, instead being broadcast on The Disney Channel for the first time in January 2006, spawned two sequels — one also a made-for-TV movie and the other a full theatrical-release film before inspiring a reality television series, a musical tour, an ice show, and a spinoff TV show.
The 28-member strong cast is comprised of actors from Pulaski, Radford, Christiansburg and Blacksburg, to name a few, and is being put on by Adaire Theatre, a local production company based out of Dublin.
As the succinct name suggests, the show follows the lives of East High students as they attempt to put on a school musical. The order of things is shaken up when the stereotypical extroverted jock, Troy, and shy, nerdy girl Gabriella net the lead roles in the show and social chaos ensues.
A plot against the pair forms by Ryan and Sharpay, who fear social change and want their various cliques to remain the same. But Troy and Gabriella overcome adversity, and in the process inspire those around them to do the same.
Directed by Kendall Payne, co-founder of Adaire Theatre with Megan Corsnitz, the show will feature professional quality choreography and special effects, including specialty lighting, fog and smoke machines, sound equipment and a full-fledged JD booth, set up onstage as a live-wire set piece.
The bulk of the stage’s set is comprised of congruent staircases leading to a balcony that overlooks the stage’s floor, which is painted to resemble a basketball court key.
The intricate set and effects are meant to draw the audience into the performance, make them feel like a part of the show and to give the production a more professional, authentic feel, said Payne.
“The set is going to stand out — the lights, the special effects, the big dance numbers and tight choreography, it’ll really impress,” he said. “It’s going to be big. We’re hoping to surprise and overwhelm our audience with the level of professionalism of the show. We want them to get caught up in it.
“Everyone knows the show, the songs — that’ll get people into the seats. But we want to do more than that; we want them to really get into it and want to come back.”
The purpose of the production, Payne said, was to give local actors the opportunity to participate in a professional-level performance to give them the feel of what it takes to act outside the realm of middle and high-school-level shows.
“That’s what (Adaire Theatre) is all about — we wanted to get the area’s kids involved and show them firsthand how a professional production is run,” he said. “The long rehearsals, the hard work, all of it without the distractions that come with trying to put on a show during the school year.”
HSM is not the first time the Adaire performers have taken to the PCHS stage — last summer they used the venue to put on Snoopy (The Musical)! — bringing Charles Schultz’s iconic Peanuts Gang to life and introducing the theatre company to families from all across the New River Valley.
“You know, we thought that one would have brought out the younger crowd — we miscalculated a little. Most of the audience that saw that show were older,” Payne said. “Instead a lot of older people came out, many who grew up with the Peanuts Gang and were familiar with the characters.”
Payne is no stranger to the PCHS stage — he graduated from the school in 2001. From there he studied theatre, music and dance at the Shenandoah Conservatory, where he graduated in 2005. He met Corsnitz during a show in Roanoke a few years ago, where the idea was tossed around about advancing the accessibility of professional-quality live theatre in small communities.
“She was on board, and we just jumped into it,” Payne said.
PCHS theatre arts teacher and director Jeff McCoy, a Christiansburg resident, traded in his director’s chair for a coach’s whistle and tracksuit for the performance, temporarily relinquishing his 18-year tenure of calling the shots in the school’s Little Theatre to one of his former students.
“It’s been fun taking direction from him, watching him work,” McCoy, who directed last year’s Adaire performance of Snoopy, said. “We’ve collaborated in the past, but this is the first time I haven’t directed. So far we’ve had two weeks of hard rehearsal, and we’re doing tech rehearsals this week, and the show goes up on Friday. It’s not a lot of time to put a show this technical together, but he and the cast are doing great with it. I’m pretty impressed, actually.”
McCoy will be portraying the role of basketball coach Jack Bolton.
As for turning the tables and directing his old director, Payne said it’s taken some getting used to.
“It’s so weird. Strange,” he grinned. “He was my mentor all through middle school and high school. It’s interesting — he’s playing the student in this scenario. The character he’s playing is pretty one-dimensional — he’s the gym coach. It’s a very grounded character, and McCoy’s very much a character actor. Watching him take a back seat and take direction from me is a little weird. But kind of great. I love that he’s a part of this.”
“The best part is I don’t have to answer questions,” McCoy joked. “I get to keep my mouth shut and defer all questions and complaints to Kendall. It’s an interesting dynamic for me.”
McCoy said he was originally going to be solely on the sidelines, but the actor slated to play Bolton fell through.
“I was going to be around anyway, so Kendall asked me to step into the role,” McCoy said. “It’s been neat working with these talented actors from the stage and seeing them all grow as performers, from the first rehearsal on. They’ve adapted remarkably well to the pro-type schedule. The show is their life right now. There’s nothing distracting them, and they’re in rehearsals pretty much all day. It’s really come together. They’re putting all kinds of personal touches onto their characters.
“I think a lot of teen and pre-teen fans who all grew up on this show will come out and have a good time with it. It’s a very technical performance, a very professional show. The choreography is incredible. It’s much more intense than a standard high school show.”
Young actress Mackenzie Landreth, who splits time between Christiansburg and Dublin, is an upcoming seventh-grader at Dublin Middle School. She will be portraying one of the smaller roles, but is involved in many of the show’s big dance numbers.
“This is my second show ever — there’s a ton of complicated choreography, but I’ve been dancing a long time so it’s something I’m used to,” Landreth said. “There’s a lot of good energy though.”
Landreth was impressed with the progression the cast has made since its first rehearsal two weeks ago.
“The first time we tried to run through the show at the beginning it was a disaster. People were running into each other during the dance numbers,” she said. “Now it’s all coming together and the cast is doing great. We’ve progressed so much. I can’t wait until opening night.”
The curtain will go up on the show Friday at 7 p.m. It will run Friday through Sunday, and again the following weekend. Friday and Saturday performances will take place at 7 p.m., and the Sunday matinees will go up at 3 p.m.
Tickets are $10 for general admission and $7 for students and seniors. Advance tickets are available at Adaire Theatre’s website.
By Aaron Atkins