RICK BROWN, Yard Light Media
KEARNEY — Director Steve Barth enjoys working with a big cast, a big setting, and an even bigger story.
“I love directing bigger castings,” he said. “I love the ability to create these visual images on stage with so many people. I also love that the cast members come onto the stage from different places. They walk through the audience, they walk through the edges of the stage, they walk through the stage and we even have a turntable that rotates to reveal different people.
Barth sees the actors and the set as a palette of possibilities for artistic expression.
“We have all these lockers and high school decor on different levels, places where I can group the actors together,” he said. “The scene will really come to life in the halls of East High School. I think the audience will be captivated by it, from the first moment.
With at least 35 performers, the cast of “High School Musical” tells the story of two teenagers, Troy Bolton, the super-popular basketball team captain, and Gabriella Montez, the super-smart transfer student, so as they attempt to land leads the school’s big show.
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“‘High School Musical’ is one of the greatest Disney franchises in history,” Barth said. “When it came out, it was an instant hit. They came out with a second and third film featuring each of the individual characters. It inspired a stage production, which is now taking the world by storm. This summer, we are thrilled that the Crane River Theater has the opportunity to bring this Disney phenomenon to life in Yanney Park.
Crane River Theater presents “High School Musical” which opens Thursday and runs through July 2 at the Cope Amphitheater at Yanney Heritage Park. The curtain is at 7 p.m. every night except Sunday. Admission is $5 per person.
“It really is a production that is about love, acceptance and friendship — ultimately putting the audience on their feet to have a good time,” Barth noted.
Production began as a Disney Channel Original Movie in 2006, with two more franchise installments in 2007 and 2008. In 2016, a fourth installment in the series was planned but never made.
Barth views High School Musical shows as pure entertainment.
“If you want a show that’s really fun, this is absolutely the production for you,” he said. “It concerns anyone and everyone in the audience. There is so much nostalgia surrounding the show. It appeals to the older demographic; people in their 30s or 40s who saw it when they were younger and became fans of the show.
Teens can relate to the storylines of the second and third installments of “High School Musical.”
“There’s a younger generation that’s just been exposed to ‘High School Musical’ with new versions of the show,” Barth said. “I can’t tell you how many 3, 4, and 5 year olds are in love with the movies, the characters, and the songs. The amazing part of ‘High School Musical’ is that it finds this way to be completely ‘camp’ and silly, but still finds a way to resonate with a heartfelt and beautiful message at the same time.
With choreography by Noelle Boatyard and musical direction by Kandi Stelling, Barth expects the show to vibrate with loud dancing and singing.
“We have a wonderful cast that we’ve assembled from all over the country, as well as a lot of local artists,” he said. “We pushed them very far with dancing and singing. These songs are really going to come to life on the Yanney stage with a lot of exuberance and a lot of precision and a lot of joy. We had the opportunity to get a new sound card and speakers so our sound was better than ever this summer at Yanney Park.
The plot of “High School Musical” involves cliques of friends who resist diversification.
“All of them have their own groups that don’t mix very well,” Barth said. “With the ability to have different platforms and levels in our big set, I’m able to take the cheerleaders away from the brains, away the kids from the theater from the sportsmen – which is really important. For that the message of this show gets through, you have to see that everyone is sticking to the status quo, which is basically being in their own clique and not mixing with others.
At the end of the show, the blocking brings the bands together for the musical’s title track, “We’re All in This Together”.
“The message of this show is really about accepting and seeing yourself for who you are,” Barth said. “While theater kids may have different interests than sports kids and skating kids may have different interests than brains, you can have those different interests and still be friends with each other.”