SELMA – When it comes to the first 2019 Selma Arts Center production, “High School Musical,” life seems to be mirroring art as the young actors say their characters’ lives are similar to their own.
“Musical” runs from Jan. 11-19 and is co-directed by Adam Chavez and Ben Deghand. Tickets range from $15 for adults, $12 for children 12 and under.
Chavez said a major goal in this production is maintain the show’s appeal and ambience.
“When it first premiered, it quickly became a pop culture success not only because of its catchy score, but because the message was so relatable for our generation. This idea and pressure that I had to conform and stick to a ‘status quo’ was shattered when I first saw HSM as a teenager.”
He also identifies with one of the lead characters and the message in the story emboldened Chavez to be himself.
“I truly connected with Troy and it helped me embrace and be proud of my diverse hobbies of interest. Therefore, it has been important for us to capture that message with younger audiences, but in a more up-to-date modern approach so that they can fully relate. With technology, social media, modern slang and dance, we have been able to put our own subtle spin on this classic piece of pop culture. In addition, we have utilized digital designers. like many of our past SAC shows. to imprint our image and stylistic approach. We assure you that this isn’t going to be the same ‘High School Musical’ you have seen over and over again.”
Deghand adds that this show first appeared when he was in high school and he, too, can relate to the characters and their dilemmas.
“I was already that theatre nerd that knew that I wanted to be on stage for the rest of my life. Back then, it was a clear message on being true to yourself while battling what it means to be a ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ during your adolescent years.”
Deghand said that as co-directors, he and Chavez are sticking true to that message while also adding some new theatre magic to the story.
“We took the script and put a whole new, modern twist to it that I don’t want to give away too early. We’ve tried to surround our audience with all the new technology that theatre has to offer while not disappointing those who come to see the story we all know and love. After you leave the theatre you’ll know what it truly means when ‘We’re All In This Together.’”
“High School Musical” is a Disney Channel movie that tells the story of the East High students Troy Bolton and Gabriella Montez who are struggling to reveal all their talents to their schoolmates.
Troy is one of the jocks and not only plays basketball but is the team captain. He meets Gabriella on a ski trip and sings karaoke with her. When she turns up on campus as a new student, he has to decide if and how he can reveal his budding interest in drama with his jock friends.
Troy is played by Selma’s Nico Colado, a seventh grader at Abraham Lincoln Middle School who not only is into sports but has theater experience as well having been involved with SAC’s Cool Kids Players.
When he was younger, Colado was in “Mary Poppins” and “Gypsy” but has since been busy with football and now basketball.
“It’s kind of been awhile,” he said of being in SAC shows. “I got home from practice one day and she said, ‘hey they’re doing this show. You want to do it?’”
Unlike his character, Colado said his friends are supportive but before jumping on the opportunity he had to think about the time commitment involved.
“It takes a lot of time and I was kind of nervous since I haven’t done this in a while.”
Now that he’s landed one of the lead roles, Colado said he understands his character’s dilemma but is grateful his friends are more supportive.
“The main problem is the jock and the smart mathematician both want to do a show, but that’s unusual for that school. Everybody has one group and they stick to that and can’t do anything else. It’s weird and everybody else wouldn’t find it cool. That’s why they have to tell everyone that they like doing [the plays]. At the end, everyone agrees you have to be yourself.”
While some of the other young actors say such cliques definitely do exist at schools, there seems to be more acceptance that others have different interests and talents.
“Some people get it and some people don’t,” Colado said, “but it doesn’t matter as long as your friends are really your friends they’ll support you.”
Fresno’s Alyssa Martin plays Gabriella, the new girl at school who’s known more for being shy, nerdy and interested in chemistry than performing on stage.
“They find out they both love singing and want to do the musical, but their cliques are very against that. They don’t want them breaking away,” Martin said of their dilemma.
Martin is a junior college student and has been in other SAC productions such as “Music Man,” “Shrek,” “Honk” and “Little Mermaid.” Realizing the actors in “Musical” are a lot like her character is another fun aspect of the show.
“Since I’ve been doing [theater] for a while, it’s cool to have a younger cast of people who are discovering that they love to do theater. That’s kind of what the show’s about – finding out what you love. That’s what’s happening with this cast. People are trying it out and realizing they love it. So I love this younger cast and the feel of it.”
Although the story is geared towards teens, Martin said audience members of all ages will be encouraged by the message.
“The idea behind it is true for all ages of not letting everyone’s ideas of you stop you from doing what you love. I think that’s real for everyone. That’s not just for high schoolers.”
Selma’s April Valle has the role of Ms. Darbus, the drama and homeroom teacher at East High. In playing her character, Valle said she draws from the encouragement and attitude of her own drama teacher at Selma High, Brynn Saponara.
“She’s very encouraging and she pushes you, which are some of the characteristics I see in Ms. Darbus. She makes the cast feel like a family and has all these little exercises that helps you get to know each other and do team bonding.”
In the show, it’s Darbus that overhears Gabriella and Troy singing and has them audition for one of the school’s musicals. Once the secret gets out that they’re musically talented and performing in a musical, the school’s social order is disrupted.
Darbus gives the duo a callback but Gabriella is uncertain about pursuing the lead role, especially when her decathlon team members tell her that the musical will take her focus off the upcoming decathlon event. Meanwhile, Troy is stymied by his coach and teammates who’d rather he focused on an upcoming championship game.
“[The drama teacher] likes to push her students to take risks,” Valle said. “Because she is the drama teacher, she loves when they’re out of their comfort zones and she makes them do all kinds of crazy things, but they have fun.”
Valle said since she’s been in four productions at the Selma Arts Center and nine overall counting her high school shows. She likes the idea of bringing the different characters to life and the bond that forms amongst the actors.
“You go through a lot in a show together. You go through hard work, but also good times goofing off and just helping each other through the show.”
The production may be a Disney show and on the surface may be seen as entertaining, but Valle sees a deeper meaning.
“A common message in the show is to break from the status quo. We form our cliques and our groups, but we can have all different kinds of interests. We don’t have to stick to just one category. If you’re into athletics and drama, it doesn’t mean you have to confine yourself to one group. You can explore.”