Two musicals in two days is a good way to round off the week. The two I enjoyed could not be more different from each other. After the intense emotion of Les Miserables on Friday it was nice to relax with something a bit lighter and frothier by seeing the Sprowston Community Academy production of High School Musical. Director Anna Lawrence wrangles a huge cast of future stars with 78 of Sprowston’s finest youngsters on stage – although in this case the stage was extended by action all around the auditorium in a lively physical staging.

The girl meets boy from opposing cliques idea is a familiar theme although this Disney version probably owes more to West Side Story than to Romeo and Juliet. Basketball star Troy (Jack Brown) meets maths genius Gabriella (Jasmine Leftwich) while on holiday, as they share a karaoke moment. They are both startled to find themselves in the same school later, where teacher Ms Darbus (Eloise Mason) is staging a musical based on, you guessed it, Romeo and Juliet and is auditioning hopeful stars. Troy and Gabriella are keen to perform, but drawn away by their friends and peer groups to other activities. Their interest also threatens bossy drama queen Sharpay (Georgia King) who is determined to rule the drama roost with her reluctant twin brother Ryan (Aaron Ford). The scenes are linked together by the school radio announcer Jack Scott (Finn Richardson-Gunn). Finn gets lots of laughs with his enthusiastic characterisation.

Troy’s problem is exacerbated as his Dad Coach Bolton (Lewis Scantlebury) is the teacher pushing him to excel in the basketball. Meanwhile Sharpay wants Gabriella out of the way so she can have Troy to herself. The play within the play is being written by kooky Kelsi Nielson, played with great skill and spirit by Lucy Mayes.

The principals in this show are well cast and given a chance to show off their skills. We can immediately warm to Troy and Gabriella as a young couple falling in love – Jack and Jasmine get the characters just right, and Jasmine also brings a powerful singing voice to her role. Georgia King has a great time as the villainous Sharpay, flouncing around the set in her high heels and white jeans. Eloise as the drama teacher brings something of the Miss Jean Brodie flourish to her role, which is great fun.

With a big cast it is sometimes hard to see individual characters emerging from the supporting roles but Anna Lawrence has obviously encouraged her cast to develop their own performances to give a lot of added value to the musical. Whether it is the tumbling cheerleader (Cybele Souris) or Troy’s cake-making friend Zeke (Brandon Clarke) or many others these pupils give us memorable vignettes throughout this lively show. Although distinctly American in flavour the show benefits from being a high school show performed entirely by high school pupils who will be going through some of the emotional rollercoaster moments appropriate to their age group. The emerging relationship between the two leads is echoed by that of their best friends Taylor (Cindy Rukara) and Chad (Emil Oulare) in a nicely understated sub-plot.

Overall this is a joyful and well performed show that has a moral message and moments of light and shade but is not preaching or over-dramatic. It gives a big group of talented youngsters a chance to shine and also to get a taste of the thrill of performing live. The pace is good and the professionalism of the cast is impressive throughout. If you have youngsters coming up to high school age who dream of a life of music and performance then I recommend signing them up for Sprowston Academy as soon as you can!

© Julian Swainson 2020