Cranleigh School’s Junior Production merrily sprinkles some much-needed musical sweetness over school life at the perfect time of term, when energy is flagging and exams are as in full swing as the pom poms the cheerleaders swirl.
Brilliantly directed by Emily McGhee, the show does not pretend to be anything it is not – and aces it as a result. The choice of a very well-known musical leads to high expectations from an audience over character depiction, where expertly, the casting is on point and does not disappoint. The tentative, demure Gabriella is played suitably by Scarlett S. who not only fits like a cookie cutter into the role, but showcases her beautiful, songbird voice in the process. Affable and genuine jock, Troy, played brilliantly by Sam S. is handled maturely, playing the perfect Romeo to her Juliet. There is a natural charm to Sam’s Troy and the pairing meld maturely to present a humble, yet resilient duo who will not capitulate to the social sabotage that peppers their time on stage.
The deliciously devilish role of Sharpay is smashed by Jess R. and supported fabulously by Freddie M. who plays the character of Ryan. Jess plays her role with captivating venom and sass which is neutralised somewhat and made more palatable by Freddie’s humourous panache and flamboyant endeavour as sidekick. They are the duo you love to hate, but on a serious high note, they represent the temptation and vulnerability of striving to succeed, potentially, at the risk or expense of others.
The injection of two seniors into the key roles of Mrs Darbus (Honor R.) and Coach Bolton (Luke A.) does nothing to diminish the prowess of the junior cast, but adds two accomplished actors into the production, that serve to provide an experienced nucleus that the other key roles can orbit around as the story is told. Honor provides a strong, strident drama teacher whose officious yet effusive manner profoundly engages. Luke delivers Coach Bolton as a gruff, aggressive alpha male, who in turn acts as the perfect contrast to Mrs Darbus’ whimsical and spirited demeanour. Both Honor and Luke act as deferential facilitators to their younger peers, whilst delivering excellent performances themselves.
The entire cast collaborates to provide a thoroughly entertaining experience and the successes are endless. It would be an oversight not to particularly mention however, Ben C. who plays the part of the immensely likeable Jack Scott – East High’s cheesy DJ who leads us through our musical with charisma and great enthusiasm. Naalini B. also delivers the wonderfully shy, geeky and hilarious character of Kelsie utterly brilliantly, as does Ruby B. (Taylor) as kindly facilitator to new girl Gabriella. Jacob B. effects pathos from the audience in his undefended role as dumb jock along with Sean H. as Chad, and there are moments of comedic brilliance from the likes of Freddie P. as James and George N. as Alan amongst others in their cameo roles, as they pick their way alongside their fellow chorus stars to touch upon the very real issues that present themselves in teenagers’ lives. It would be churlish not to mention the wonderfully enthusiastic and engaging cheerleading troop (Connie L., Milly C., Halle W., Lizzie H., Ellie S. and Tash K.) who dance and sing and act as the aerobic glue that keeps the multiple facets of the storyline together on stage. They are relentless in their endeavours and it takes a lot of confidence to dance so exuberantly inches away from your headmaster!
The production design by Hamish Ellis was impressive, creating multiple levels in such a short spatial area. This created many nooks in which the cast could delight and perform, and perform they did, creating an array of interesting interactions for the audience to delight in which was visually stimulating. The split zones also cleverly allowed the varying elements of the narrative to be told in a compelling and assisting manner. The lighting was spot on and facilitated the perfect blend between the scenes too, as did the unsung heroes of the stage crew who morphed into the background and efficiently and swiftly affected the next scene. All of this said, the team of musicians lead brilliantly by George Royall are another shining star of the show – you certainly can’t have a musical without music! However, this was not just any old performance of a musical score; the calibre of musicians and the quality of the music was sublime, assisting our young performers and allowing such well-known tunes to be dependably delivered. You could guarantee that the audience would know these songs very well indeed and therefore there was no room for error; there was not an audible glitch in sight and short of George Royall coming out fleetingly to pleasantly say hello and wave his baton in a friendly manner at the audience, you would have thought it a Disney recording.
All facets of the wonderful production lead by the varying brilliance within the creative team, dovetailed to present an outstanding production that left the audience grinning from ear to ear and happily content that perseverance, integrity and sticking firm to what you believe in triumphs in the end. The crowd did indeed, go wild for Wildcats!