Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

MTC presents ‘Disney’s High School Musical’

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Bill Forehand
The cast includes (from left) Andrew Tarquinio (Troy), Carly Rosefelt (Taylor), Adam Uslan (Chad), Kelsey Spencer (Gabriella), Emma Leiken (Sharpay) and Jonny Perl (Ryan).
The Battle of ‘‘Troy.”

If you know that it is fought ultimately between Gabriella and Sharpay, then you belong to the demographic known, collectively, as ‘‘American-kids-who-can’t-get-enough-of-‘Disney’s High School Musical’-and-their-parents.”

You know about the fateful New Year’s Eve karaoke duet, understand the dynamics of the East High Wildcats, recognize the importance of ‘‘getting your head in the game” and the corresponding wrong-headedness of ‘‘sticking to the things you know.”

If, on the other hand, you’re wondering, ‘What does it all mean?’ well, it means that ‘‘Disney’s High School Musical” is coming to town. The 2006 made-for-TV smash hit movie starring Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale and a cast of Disney cuties is being presented by Rockville’s Musical Theater Center. And — duh! — tickets are hard to come by.

‘‘I’ve done stuff with Musical Theater Center before and we’ve always sold well,” says director Chad Wheeler. ‘‘But this — this is the phenomenon that is ‘Disney’s High School Musical.’”

And Wheeler, along with choreographer Cara Tarone, vocal director Kevin Kearney, music director Barry Hamilton and a kid-centric cast of 60 third- through eighth-graders are bracing themselves for DHSM-mania.

Wheeler says that, as an art form, the musical ‘‘is making a comeback.

‘‘Every once in a while a show pops out and sticks with people — the old ‘beach party’ musicals, ‘Fame,’ ‘Grease.’”

The formula, as far as he can see, is ‘‘music, first and foremost,” plus enough teen angst to make things interesting. But directing a young cast in the stage musical version of a TV movie musical they’ve become obsessed with is not as easy as it would seem.

‘‘Some of these kids come in knowing the movie line for line, song for song,” he sighs. ‘‘But this is the stage version; it’s not exactly like the movie.

‘‘They’ve had to un-learn some things.”

Andrew Tarquinio knows all about that.

‘‘I’m pretty much like Troy,” says Tarquinio, 14, referring to the character he plays on the stage. ‘‘I’m a big sports guy. I came into theater and realized I loved it.”

Which is basically the plot of ‘‘Disney’s High School Musical.” Sports-loving Troy and brainy Gabriella find inter-clique romance when they dare to be different by performing in a high school musical.

Producer Laurie Levy Issembert says that ‘‘High School Musical” has been called a modern day ‘‘Romeo and Juliet,” but it’s more like a modern-day ‘‘Grease.” Instead of Danny Zuko, Sandy and the Pink Ladies, there’s Troy, Gabriella, Chad, Taylor, Ryan, Sharpay and the gang and they — sorry, it’s hard to believe there’s anyone on the planet who does not know how this goes. As Tarquinio says: ‘‘I have a 5-year-old sister; she listens to it all the time.”

Not that he doesn’t listen, too; he does, and he’s not ashamed to admit it. (Although he did worry, before seeing ‘‘Disney’s High School Musical” on TV for the first time, that it might be ‘‘all girly.”)

Football, basketball, lacrosse and swimming, the athletic eighth-grader at St. Jane de Chantal School in Bethesda loves them all.

But, he says, one activity tops the others.

‘‘I know a lot of people are like, ‘theater?’

‘‘I want people to know it’s amazing. It’s the thing I love most, out of everything I do.”

And now you know that ‘‘Troy” is burning — with a love for theater.

Musical Theater Center presents ‘‘Disney’s High School Musical in the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, 603 Edmonston Drive, Rockville. Performances are Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 1 and 5 p.m. Single show tickets are $17.50 for adults and $15.50 for children, students and seniors. A ‘‘Senior Special” admission of $8.50 is available to seniors, 60 and older, for the 2 p.m. Saturday show. Call 240-314-8690 or visit www.musicaltheatercenter.org.