St. Thomas Aquinas takes on High School Musical in production at Flato Academy Theatre

By Ian McKechnie

Kieanna Keller and Nathan Bertucci star as Gabriella and Troy in High School Musical. Photo: St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Secondary School.

Theatregoers will have a chance to see St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Secondary School bring High School Musical to the FLATO Academy Theatre’s stage on Feb. 24 and 25.

Based on the 2006 movie made famous by Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens, this “musical within a musical” sees Troy Bolton, Gabriella Montez, and their classmates audition for roles in their school’s upcoming musical – navigating all of the usual high school hallway politics in the process.

As the Advocate arrives for an interview, a dozen students involved in the production are assembled on the cafeteria’s spacious stage to rehearse such memorable songs as “Breaking Free” and “We’re All In This Together.” The student performers – most of whom were but infants when the original movie came out 17 years ago – flip through yellow folders containing their respective lines as director Amy Melanson issues stage directions. The so-called “jocks” and “brainiacs,” the principal cliques in the High School Musical plot, assemble at stage right and stage left. Later, the cast forms a circle at centre stage –signifying the teamwork involved in putting any high school musical together, whether fictitious or in real time.

High School Musical represents STA’s second venture into the world of musical theatre. “When we did our first one, Back to the 80s, four years ago, we thought it would be an every other year event, and two years after that one we would have done our second one,” Melanson says. “However, of course with the pandemic we were unable to, so we were really excited to be able to put [on] another musical this year and get back into it. We have a whole new, fresh group of students who are excited to take to the stage.”

Auditions began in October 2022 and rehearsals got underway shortly thereafter. Asked why she chose High School Musical for her young chargesMelanson says “I wanted to pick something that’s relatable to them, that has a storyline that they would understand and could embody those characters a little bit more because it’s part of their life – they’re experiencing it right now.”

It’s a point that resonates with Melanson’s cast, who see themselves reflected in the characters they portray. “Coming into high school, much like Gabriella, was very scary and intimidating,” says Kienna Kellar, who plays the lead female character in High School Musical. “But I think Gabriella displays the way that you fit in by just being yourself and doing what you want. Throughout your last few years of high school, you kind of understand that more and grow as a person.”

Josiah Huberts, cast as Ryan Evans, agrees and says that High School Musical has a definite autobiographical quality to it. “I’m sort of shy and I sometimes feel like the sidekick – and in the musical, Ryan is the sidekick of one of the main characters, Sharpay Evans,” Huberts observes.

Dakota Butler takes on the role of Jack Scott, the nerdy yet hip character responsible for making announcements over the public address system in High School Musical. Like Troy and Gabriella, Butler sees performing arts as an opportunity to leave one’s mark on a community that has nurtured and supported students for four years.

“The school here definitely gave me confidence to do so,” Butler says when asked why she auditioned for this musical. “I wanted to at least do something to make a legacy here at STA, because it’s my last year here so I might as well do something fun.”

The musical gets underway at 7 pm on the first night and there’s a 1 pm matinee and 7 pm performance the following day. Tickets are $25 for adults and $18 for youth and can be purchased at the Academy Theatre box office or by calling the school at (705) 878-4117.

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