Where: 300 Renmin Da Dao, People’s Square, near Huangpi Bei Lu, Metro Line 1, 2 & 8 People’s Square Station (人民大道300号近黄陂北路, 地铁1, 2, 8号线人民广场站)
Runs from:June 30 – July 19
Tickets: Between 180RMB to 680RMB. You can buy them here
By Jonathan Chow
“High School Musical” is a bonafide hit with Shanghai audiences! The stage adaption of Disney’s record breaking TV movie musical first opened in South Africa as part of a global tour before coming to its second stop, here in Shanghai. According to CCTV news, “the show has been a box office success” at the Shanghai Grand Theater for the past two weeks since its June 30th debut, with “ninety-five percent of the house sold for each performance.”
Unlike the more mature-themed musicals targeted toward older audiences that have run in Shanghai (Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, etc.), “High School Musical” is a targeted toward teens and tweens. This new Disney stage production tells the story of Troy Bolton, a high school basketball star who falls for Gabriella Montez, the babelicious math nerd, after unintentionally sharing a karaoke duet in which they revealed to each other their mutual talent and passion for singing. Together they choose to break free of their opposing social cliques to be together and in the process end up dissolving social barriers and teaching their peers to “following your dreams” and “be yourself”.
We spoke with the stage musical’s director, Paul Warwick Griffin about adapting the Zac Efron + Vanessa Hudgens hit for the stage.
How is the stage version of High School Musical (HSM) different from the movie version?
When we started developing the stage version, one of the first things that had to be borne in mind was that there is a very strong identification with this brand. The demographics that come to see this show have very clear expectations, so we very careful to ensure that we delivered the same characters, the same songs.
All of the songs that are in the movie are in the live show, and the writers developed another two songs that we needed for the live show just in terms of the extra narrative and bringing it onto the stage. In some ways it’s very similar to the movie, we kept the same characters, the same plot line, but there’s an awful lot more choreography and a lot more dancing.
Obviously, you can do some things on film that you can’t do on the stage so we pushed the boat out a little bit in terms of the choreography, and we’ve written a couple of new numbers for the show, but in essence it remains the same story with the same characters.
Is there any involvement from the cast or the creative team behind the original movie version in this stage version?
It’s a completely new creative team, but it was overseen out of New York by Disney. So the same guys who were involved in conceptualizing the movie and putting the movie together were very much hands-on involved in terms of structuring the stage show.
Has the stage version gone under any modifications for Chinese audiences specifically or the Asian market in general?
Well we’ve added a couple of local colloquialisms which I think go a long way to putting a Shanghai audience at ease with the material. One of the aims of the show is get people to be relaxed and engaged with the story, so we haven’t made any structural changes, we’ve just added in a couple of one-liners which I feel go a long way in putting a local audience at ease and allowing it to be perhaps a little accessible for them.
What other cities is the production planning to go to?
Well at the moment the plans are mainland China, possibly kicking off in Beijing, and then regional China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, New Zealand… We were actually originally scheduled for an Asian tour in 2010 beginning next year, but circumstances were such that there was an opportunity to come to Shanghai a year ahead of schedule, which is what we’ve done. So Shanghai’s actually getting the show a year before anyone else does.
HSM has been very successful in Western countries, but what is its fan-base like in Asian countries?
Well we’ve been working very closely with Disney in Asia and following their sales figures. The brand has got an enormous following here in Asia, possibly a greater following than I originally anticipated. The movies are certainly well-loved; the score, the albums have done very well in terms of sales, so we knew we were coming to a part of the world where the brand was preceding us and that the brand was very well established before we got here.
The high school experience portrayed in HSM is quite different from the high school experience for young people in Asia. What is it about the HSM franchise that appeals to an Asian audience or an international audience?
The story of HSM is essentially “Romeo and Juliet”, it’s an age old, universal story that transcends language and cultural barriers. Every generation has had this story in some way, shape or form, whether its “Grease”, which was part of my generation or whether it’s “Romeo and Juliet”. Simplistically, it’s the notion of saying to people: follow your dreams and be great enough to follow those dreams. It’s a that sentiment appeals to people the world over. I grew up and went to school in the UK and my high school experience was certainly nothing like the high school experience presented on stage but I think the idea behind it all is one that resonates the world over.
What was the selection process like for choosing the lead actors?
We took about 6 months. In fact, the Troy and Gabriella were originally cast through a reality TV show. So in total when we casted the show, we looked upwards of 3,000 people to get to the Troy and Gabriella that we wound up with. It was a very lengthy and thorough process and one that got us the best possible results.
Why were auditions done through a reality TV series format as opposed to traditional auditions?
The notion of the television reality search has become very popular for a number of reasons: one is that it gets your musical a vast exposure and following long before it actually opens.
When it came to musicals, I had never been a really big fan of casting along these lines, however when it came to this show, two things were important: one was that we were looking for very young performers so I wanted to make sure that we got access to as wide a range of performers as possible and sometimes when you cast along traditional means you don’t get to see the performers you would under these circumstances. With a reality TV search you get to see many more people who are perhaps not represented professionally, or with an agency, under the traditional reach you wouldn’t get to see those people.
And the other reason that I thought it was very important when it came to casting this show was obviously that there was a very particular brand recognition particularly the Troy and Gabriella played by Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens, and I wanted to make sure that the South African audience was ready to totally accept David as Troy, and he did that for us. By the time we opened in South Africa, our Troy and Gabriella, were the Troy and Gabriella of choice, by public, the same people buying the tickets to see the show. And that I think bought us an awful lot of acceptance along the way. So all in all I see this as a hugely successful vehicle for the casting of this show.
Will we be seeing live stage versions of the High School Musical sequels?
Well, High School Musical 2 is currently being finessed in terms of writing and finalizing the script, and yes, High School Musical 2 will be coming to the stage sometime next year.