A musical with a message

‘High School Musical’ coming to WCHS stage

-Messenger photo by David Borer
The jocks of East High take center stage with the high-energy song "Get'cha Head in the Game," accompanied by the beat of bouncing basketballs. In the foreground are pit band members Kirk Greenly, Cody Seiser and Mike Kroona. Not shown are band members Josi Greenley and Chad Hill.

Return with us now to those thrilling days of cliques, crushes and cafeteria food, better known as high school.

Whether you loved it, hated it, or barely survived it, Webster City High School’s upcoming production of the 2006 Disney hit “High School Musical” is a fun throwback to your own high school years. Watch your favorite high school characters: nerds, jocks, divas, cheerleaders, coaches and drama teachers sing, dance and act their way across the stage of Prem Sahai Auditorium.

It promises to be an unforgettable experience on several fronts.

Why “High School Musical?”

Greta Nelson, WCHS vocal music director, explains: “I was 9 years old in 2006 when Disney’s ‘High School Musical’ premiered on The Disney Channel. I got sucked into anything connected with that show. I faithfully followed the choreography sessions in front of my TV set; I learned the lines to all the songs. It’s cheesy and campy, but in the best way. The message it has for high school students, and everyone, really — be yourself; be all you can be — remains valid today.”

By junior year in her own high school in Northfield, Minnesota, Nelson knew she wanted to teach music. Graduating from Wartburg College with a bachelor of science in music education, she took a job — the job she still holds today in vocal music — at Webster City High School. Looking back over five years, she says, “It’s better every year. I see more and more of our students stepping forward to develop and prioritize the musical aspect of their lives.”

Nelson is directing the vocal and instrumental music aspects of the show. She’s one of a trio that includes Candace Ruby, who heads up dramatic direction, and Lindsay Henderson, who is in charge of choreography. Since every one of the 35 or so actors in the cast must, in essence, become a “triple threat” — able to sing, dance and act — often all three at once, it adds up to a big job.

Ruby, whose theater career dates to a role in “The King and I” at age 6, moved to Webster City in 1997. She comes by her obvious abilities as a director naturally, having led the worship team at Missionary Alliance Church, Blairsburg, before the pandemic.

She and Nelson chose “High School Musical” for this year’s spring play, in full agreement they had students who were capable of and would work hard to pull off such a big stage show. Her son, Gabe Ruby, plays the male lead, Troy Bolton.

Just as naturally as Nelson concentrates on music, and Ruby on stage direction, Henderson, of Webster City, seems born to the role of choreographer. She studied dance for 16 years at Webster City’s Dance Connection, first under LuAnn Tanner, and later with Becky Harfst. She eventually taught dance herself at The Dance Connection, taught choreography for WCHS’s show choirs, and has been in charge of choreography for several recent plays at Webster City Community Theatre, including “Church Basement Ladies,” “Shreck Jr.” and “The Sound of Music.”

Admitting that “dance isn’t an important part of our culture,” she nonetheless took on the daunting task of teaching high school boys to dance for their roles in “High School Musical.”

“The boys, and all our students, are so willing, so enthused,” she said. “They show up for individual coaching, make time for four-hour choreography rehearsals on Sundays, and work hard every day at practice to perfect their craft. Now, it’s paying off; you can see improvement every day.”

Henderson designed all original movements for every number (at least 15, depending on how you count) of the show.

Dave Parrott, who’s managing sound for the production, is a critical fourth member of the show’s management team. Parrott, who was department chair of Audio & Video Technology at Mt. San Jacinto College, Hemet, California, before moving with his family to Webster City in 2022, is a sound technician with rare professional experience.

“I’ve worked in lots of concert venues,” he says. “The acoustics in Prem Sahai Auditorium are as good as it gets.”

Nelson is full of praise for Parrott and his work.

“Dave ran the sound for our variety show productions (in Prem Sahai Auditorium) in March. His work made a huge difference in the sound quality throughout the auditorium, while still using our old equipment that dates from 1998. The effect his work will have on ‘High School Musical’ is going to be amazing. He’s spent countless (volunteer) hours in the auditorium, improving every aspect of our sound system, to ensure our students sound their very best. We’re so grateful.”

In the Disney version of the show, East High School is set in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but was really filmed at a school of the same name in Salt Lake City. The two-level set in the WCHS production is one of the biggest in recent memory, dominating the large stage of Prem Sahai Auditorium. Candace, and husband, Jared Ruby, spearheaded the building of the set, ably assisted by many volunteer builders and painters. It’s got everything you’d expect to see in the real-life home of the East High Wildcats: lockers, classrooms, school office, band room, even a basketball court with hoop and backboard.

It takes great talent, chemistry and a big dose of nerve, for 17- or 18-year-olds to get up on stage, look into each other’s eyes, and sing a duet about falling in love. Yet that’s just what Troy Bolton, played by Gabe Ruby, and Gabriella Montez, played by Caroline Ehn, do with the song “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” It’s as real a representation of a G-rated high school love affair as you’re ever likely to see.

Another duet, featuring Sharpay Evans, played by Rebecca Kenville, and Ryan Evans, portrayed by Hank Christeson, tells the story of their underhanded plot to dominate the East High drama club. The innate talent and natural projection they bring to the performance is notable, and capable of filling the large auditorium, thanks in part to the vastly improved sound system.

Perla Torres is convincing as overly-dramatic drama coach Ms. Darbus, at once poignantly telling her students, “Anything’s possible in the world of the theater.” Similarly, Brandon Lahr, who plays Coach Bolton, father of Troy, captures the stereotypical disdain of anything that isn’t sports in his son’s life, later realizing how limiting that can be to multi-talented students.

No high school, real or imaginary, can run without daily announcements. Real-life brainiac Luke Holberg reads them over the PA system throughout the show, helping us understand what’s going on at East High that day.

A new feature that adds immeasurably to the quality and professionalism of the performance is a five-piece pit band composed, with the exception of exuberant drummer Cody Seiser, a WCHS student, completely of adult musicians from the greater Webster City community. They include Josie Greenley on keyboard, Chad Hill and Mike Kroona on electric guitar, and Kirk Greenley on bass guitar.

If the first-class set, singing and dancing aren’t enough, you can look for — and find — life lessons in this exuberant show. Tensions between jocks, brainiacs (serious students), and thespians and their all-too-real cliques come to a head when three crucial events in the life of East High happen on the same day: a championship basketball game, science decathlon, and school play.

See the play to find out how it all ends.

Tickets are on sale now, and can be reserved and purchased in advance on ShowTix4U at www.showtix4you.com. There are three chances to see the show: 7:30 p.m. on April 19 and April 20, and 2:30 p.m. April 21.


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