Sunday, September 9, 2007

Adaptation

Hello my faithful readers (I know there's at least one of you). After some R&R, I'm ready to come back and talk about interesting things. I've had one topic request and I will get to it...just not today.

My paying gig these days is working at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto. Currently the show playing is High School Musical. I was dreading this show but to my surprise it's actually quite good. I should know better by now - Disney is actually quite innovative in making stage versions of their products. But I really was sick of hearing everyone gush about how great it was that this show was bringing a new audience to the theatre.

A friend described the movie version as "Grease for a new generation" and the show's premise is an outright steal from that show: couple meet on vacation, she transfers in to his school without knowing it, he's the king of the school and she's the brainy type finding her way. From there it turns into a surprising commentary on being true to yourself and your dreams, a complete flip from Grease where the couple each participate in the other's world in the hopes of impressing and belonging.

What is really blowing my mind is one number in particular called Get'cha Head in the Game. Until I was prepping for this entry I hadn't seen another version of it. YouTube has an out-of-focus film version - I'm amazed The Mouse hasn't stamped all over it. You'll find an audio clip of the stage version if you click on the link above but it doesn't sound the same. (I'm guessing it's from the original Atlanta version and was massaged for the tour.) Neither version in my mind touches what I'm seeing on stage every night.

The song is set in basketball practice and starts off with an echo from one bouncing ball. Another bounce is added, then the sound of squeaking shoes on the court. With these everyday sounds as a base, the music is added in. The choreography (huge props to Lisa Stevens - she's Canadian!) uses a combination of basketball and hip-hop moves, with basketballs being moved around the stage while acro and breaking adds extra visual excitement. If you go to Show Reels on Lisa's site (have I mentioned how much I hate all-Flash sites?), the first number on the reel is this beginning minus the initial audio build.

The song is about the boy deciding to go for both auditioning for the school musical and asking the girl out. Twice during the song his mind leaves the practice and goes elsewhere. This is achieved by changing the lighting to an almost dark stage with a couple of spots and having the chorus of players massed in a tight group as backup singers. They get in that position from their practice moves in an incredibly organic way. It effectively sets up visually the conflict in his head. You can see what it looks like if you go to Lisa's site and click on News, it's the pic on the right at the bottom.

When the song hits the climax, basketballs are dropped from the grid for a visual and auditory punctuation that raises the song even higher and now with every person on the stage with a ball it sets up a fascinating dynamic where balls are passed back and forth or used as props in the dance. The group is so tight that when a ball gets away from one performer, the person who gets it handles it so smoothly to return it that you wouldn't even notice if you weren't looking for it.

The rest of the show is fine (have I mentioned the choreography rocks?), but this number is the one I sneak into the house every night to watch, and will be what I will remember and miss about this show when it is gone.

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