Disney High School Musical on stage!
Book by David Simpatico
Music adapted, arranged and Produced by Bryan Louiselle
Based on a Disney Channel Movie, Written by Peter Barsocchini
Thursday, April 12 and Friday, April 13, 7 p.m.
Tickets at the door
Buzz Aldrin Middle School, 173 Bellevue Ave.

By GWEN OREL
orel@montclairlocal.news

To make herself heard, director Karen-Ann Kailin-Panico has to use a microphone. “Brainiacs!” she calls. “Thespians! Jocks! Everyone else please sit on your riser.”

Kaelin-Panico isn’t teasing the middle-school cast of “High School Musical:” the show is about cliques and how they interact or don’t.

High School Musical
KAREN-ANN KAILIN-PANICO
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“It’s controlled chaos,” the director said with a laugh. At last Friday’s rehearsal at Buzz Aldrin Middle School, the cast was in costume. Some of the students looked as though they really could be in high school, while some looked like children. The show has been in rehearsal since November.

“Everyone who auditions gets a part,” Parent Elizabeth Uva said. The cast has about 60, and there are as many students involved in the tech and backstage.

The company ran through the song “Status Quo” twice.

“No, no no no,
don’t stick to the status quo.
Don’t stick to the stuff you know,
if you wanna be cool follow one simple rule.”

Cheerleaders make up one of the cliques in "High School Musical."
DEBORAH ANN TRIPOLDI/STAFF
Cheerleaders make up one of the cliques in "High School Musical."
DEBORAH ANN TRIPOLDI/STAFF
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The message of that song is one reason Kaelin-Panico chose the show, with its message of cliques merging and acceptance.

“I really feel like children are striving for so much more than the status quo,” she said.

The 2006 Disney channel movie, which led to two sequels, was very popular, with 7.7 million viewers upon its release.

Its star-crossed sweethearts are reminiscent of “Grease:” a basketball player, Troy Bolton, falls for a “brainiac” transfer student, Gabriella.

But then the movie departs from that set up by having both students audition for the high school musical, and inspire others to ditch their cliques and preassigned roles too.

Costume coordinator Kristin Werner worked hard to distinguish the different types through their clothing so that the impact of the merge would be visible as well as audible, said Kaelin-Panico said.   

And yet the whole notion of cliques is part of the dramatic license of the play, for some of the cast.

'YOU CAN GET ALONG'

The actors are performing it almost as an anthropological study.

“You could probably have one friend and another that would link you to everyone in the school,” said Charlie Budetti, an eighth-grader who plays Jack Scott, a DJ rapper. “You can get along with basically anyone.”

Kaelin-Panico has updated the show a bit with rappers in a DJ booth narrating the show. Sixth-grader Kal Wilson plays rapper Mack Scott. “Our lines are pretty easy to memorize, because they all rap,” Wilson said.

Budetti said that auditions were challenging because he had to do a rap while he was there. “I do sometimes boast about memorization, so I didn’t want to boast and not do good,” he said.

High School Musical
Some of the company of “High School Musical” talk about their experience in the show. From bottom left: Emma Uva, Charlie Budetti, Kal Wilson, Sara Gebre-Egziabher, Amber Werner, and Clio Marcus. DEBORAH ANN TRIPOLDI/STAFF
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Eighth-grader Clio Marcus, who plays Gabriella, a leading role, said that although the cliques aren’t something she sees at Renaissance, she has seen the movie “probably 10 million times,” so she thinks about how her character was portrayed to find her way in. Marcus said she loves to sing and dance, but the musical also offers her a chance to be with her friends.

Amber Werner, an eighth grader who plays Sharpay Evans, also a large role, agreed that being with friends at rehearsals, and staying in school until 8 p.m. sometimes, was one of the best things about the show.

Seventh grader Sara Gebre-Egziabher, who intends to be an actor and plays Taylor McKessie, said the show pushes her to get emotions out of what she is playing, and build on what is there. Her character has smart comments about everyone, she said. While she can relate to that, she is also more tolerant than Taylor.

Will high school be anything like the musical?

“No,” they all said with a laugh.

“I wish it would be this easy,” said Emma Uva, an eighth grader who plays drama teacher Ms. Darbus.

“It should be this musical,” Budetti said. “If you went into high school on your first day and everybody was singing, that would be awesome.”

Uva pointed out that the students in the high school are never seen working: “This is an audition. This is free period. This is lunch.” She said she enjoys playing Ms. Darbus, who is bolder, with “less of a filter” than she has. “She just kind of doesn’t think before she talks and is very out there.” And being able to act out is fun.

Werner feels the same about Sharpay, who dresses in pink sequins and is very out there and loud. “I try to command attention, but she’s a little bolder than I am, and more mean. It’s a lot of fun playing someone so different, and I’m not actually hurting anyone’s feelings,” said Werner.

In the show, Brainiacs and Jocks don’t talk to each other, Wilson said. “The cliques are super strict. In our school there are definitely groups, but you mix around in all the groups.” At Buzz Aldrin, people can be a brainiac and a jock.

Kaelin-Panico said that Buzz Aldrin is “a very inclusive school.” Of course, there are groups, but “part of the last 10 to 15 years, acceptance and tolerance, even at a very young level, [the kids] have evolved even more than adults. It’s a whole different generation. The kids are much more comfortable being who they are,” Kaelin-Panico said.    

Theatrical Producer and Director/Set Design Director: Karen-Ann Kaelin-Panico
Musical Director: Ross Buffa
Choreographer: Arthur Thornton
Set Designer: Anastasia Kladova
Technical Supervisor: Brian Lacivita
Costume & Prop Coordinator: Kristin Werner
Playbill Coordinator: Elizabeth Uva
Parent Coordinator:Amy Budetti
Artistic Director / Choreography Master Consultant: Zetta Cool