Adam B. Vary
December 01, 2006 AT 08:41 PM EST

Maybe I’m just late to this particular discovery — it makes sense, really, since I’m a single, twentysomething gay guy who hasn’t watched anything on the Disney Channel since, oh, the early 1990s — but my God, attending the debut performance Wednesday night of High School Musical: The Concert in San Diego, CA was nothing short of revelatory. I’m not talking about the show itself, although that was also pretty darn good, and I’ll get to it a sec, promise. But first I need to relate the earth-shattering experience of hearing hundreds upon hundreds of teen and pre-teen girls screaming in delight, at the top of their lungs, all at the same time.

Do the Departments of Defense and Energy know about this phenomenon? Because I think I may have stumbled onto a vast, untapped source of power so massive, so commanding, so sonically unforgettable that hours after the show was over and I was safely back in my Los Angeles apartment, I could still hear those girls’ nearly metaphysical shrieking echoing deep inside my eardrums. I think (I fear) it may never leave.

What was all the more baffling — if, ultimately, highly reassuring –was that all this energy was directed at such an innocuously catchy popconfection as High School Musical. Anyone unfamiliar with HSMshould know that, since its premiere last January, the Disney Channel’smade-for-TV-movie musical has barnstormed the tween market with afervor heretofore reserved for the likes of boy bands and sexuallyprovocative, bottle-blonde Mickey Mouse Club alumni. Want proof? Theshow’s original soundtrack is, no joke, the best selling CD of 2006.Period. Yes, I feel old too.

addCredit(“High School Musical: Denis Poroy/AP”)

With all that built-in adulation, I was expecting HSM: The Concert to be, well, kinda like those Les Miz concerts that pop up on PBS (or, er, pan-Asian TV) now and again — that is, a semi-staged concert version of the movie. I mean, there is an actual stage version of HSMthat will reportedly be mounted more than 1,000 times across the country inthe 2006-07 school year, so I thought the least Disney could do for its40-city HSM: The Concert tour would be to make some effort to recreate the film on the stage.

And they have. Sorta. All the songs from the film are in the show,performed in roughly chronological order by all the same actors — savemale lead Zac Efron, who’s off in Toronto making the movie version of Hairspray: The Musical.(Not that you’d miss him, exactly, since his replacement for theconcert, Drew Seeley, is credited with delivering most of Efron’s vocalsin the movie. Oh, if only these kids knew from Singin’ in the Rain,they’d appreciate the irony all the more!) A few tunes get the fullproduction number treatment, especially “Get’cha Head in the Game,” abasketball-flavored semi-rap that was notable particularly for itsnonchalant use of a female dancer as one of the b-ball players (a smallexample of the casually egalitarian attitude towards gender — and, forthat matter, race — that is one of HSM’s most admirablequalities). All of it plays in front of a giant, ceiling-high videoscreen that displays pertinent clips from the film itself intercut withshots of the performers and the crowd, an overwhelming visual that morethan makes up for the otherwise basic stage design.

But rather than use this spectacle to retrace the film’s plot, the show’s producers have put together a kind of High School Musical revue, interspersing “showcases” of several of the HSMstars themselves between the numbers from the movie. The hope, it wouldseem, is that the audience cares more about the individual actors’ solomusic careers than they do about whether Troy and Gabriella will beatout Sharpay and Ryan for the leads in the school musical. (If thatmakes no sense to you, then, well, I’m not entirely sure why you’rereading this review, but no matter, since that’s the last time I’ll bereferring to HSM’s storyline.)

Based on the aforementioned gigawatted squeals piercing through theSan Diego ipayOne Center, I’d say it was a gamble that paid off bigtime. Stars Ashley Tisdale, Corbin Bleu and Vanessa Hudgens took to thestage for multi-song performances of their Disney-fied pop singles — i.e.all hip attitude with zero actual edge — with titles like “We’ll BeTogether,” “Jump In” and “Say Okay” that were exactly as pleasantlyforgettable as their titles imply.

Which is, in its way, a remarkable accomplishment. Even thoughthere’s a part of me that wishes these kids had a bit more meat to chewon in their teeny-bop entertainment — and having caught the occasionalglimpse at tween cable channel The N, I know it exists — I also knowthat just a few scant years ago, these kids’ older siblings weregrooving to songs like “I’m a Slave 4 U” and “Dirrty.” I’m sorry, Iknow I’m not a parent, but no 8, 9, 12, or 14 year old girl or boy needs to be watching their idol writhe on stage while bleating that she “wanna get dirrty.”

For one thing, a lighter touch seems to be just as effective. The 12year old boys sitting next to me seemed by far most interested in thecoolly doe-eyed Hudgens, who performed her solo set wearing a spangled,nude-colored dress cut mid-thigh, using the nom-de-pop-star Baby V, andwith a knowing expression that seemed to tell these boys what they hadto look forward to in their adolescence. (Meanwhile, poor MoniqueColeman. The recent Dancing with the Stars contestant is probably the only HSMstar guaranteed to be as familiar to parents as their kids, but shegot only a cursory dance number that wasn’t exactly befitting a memberof the Stars final four. At least it was with the U.S. Latin ballroom champ!)

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the evening’s emcee, Lucas Grabeel. The sixth tier HSMstar had the thankless role of pumping up the audience before everysingle act and then “interviewing” his co-stars after they’d performed(which was really just an excuse for copious “I love you guys”shout-outs to the fans), but he took on the job with infectious,polished delight. The kid just loves being on stage, holding a mic,hitting high notes, popping jazz hands and power stances, and wearingumpteen different bedazzled chapeaus, and for that, I gotta give himsome mad props. What? “mad props” aren’t the cool thing to do anymore?See, I told you I felt old.

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