The production by collegiate theater and dance students recently ended a run of free performances for local school children and this weekend will perform four shows for general audiences.
“That’s one of the main reasons to do it,” said Megan Smith, a student at UNR and TMCC, about bringing in local youngsters to see the show. “Arts are so important. This is a way to introduce them to it.”
Smith, a talented 24-year-old actress and singer, plays the role of Gabriella, the new girl at East High School. The plot of “High School Musical” is a simple tale of adolescent love and social conflict that was made into a mega-hit movie with catchy songs and attractive stars. Vanessa Hudgens played Gabriella in the 2006 original, which also starred the dreamy Zach Efron as Troy Bolton, captain of the basketball team at East High, who falls for Gabriella despite their different social circles.
The role of Troy is being played by 21-year-old TMCC/UNR student Evan Harris. He said local productions such as this can get the whole community involved for everyone’s benefit.
“The arts are so closed off (to young students) nowadays,” he said.
Paul Aberasturi, chair of TMCC’s Visual and Performing Arts Department and the musical’s director, said the free performance is many students’ first experience seeing live theater. Some teachers will then go back to the classroom and incorporate the arts into a lesson plan, he said.
“Teachers really use this as something to help kids grow,” Aberasturi said. “We hope it inspires some of the students to a lifelong love of the arts and maybe some of them will work toward a career in movies or television.”
Thoughts of the future were not immediately on the minds of the elementary students when they came to see “High School Musical,” however. They had much more important issues to worry about, such as whether Smith’s on-stage hair is really hers.
“I like Gabriella. Her hair is the same as mine,” Smith said, quoting one of the students who came to see the show. Smith added, “Of course, I’m wearing a wig.”
Another student wanted to know if Smith and Harris had ever kissed, especially since they were recognized as having played Prince Charming and Cinderella in a previous play. When Harris missed one of his free throws in a basketball scene, another young attendee asked, “Do you really play basketball?”
Even teachers have asked questions, Aberasturi added, and they often enjoy the show as much as their students.
“Sometimes you can see these adults and they’re just rocking out,” Aberasturi said.
Of course, the student performers are learning a thing or two themselves. Lifelong northern Nevadan Meghan Gaunt, now a 19-year-old student at TMCC and UNR, plays the role of Kelsi, who composes the musical of “High School Musical.” She has been performing on stage since she got a small role in “The Tempest” at age 8 but her participation in “High School Musical” has given her both a performing role and a leadership role.
“I’ve been given the opportunity to be the dance captain,” she said. “It has been a huge experience for me to lead the dances and learn from our great choreographer.”
Gaunt and all the other performers said they have had a great time performing “High School Musical,” and admitted liking it themselves even with its reputation of being targeted at people younger than themselves.
“ ‘High School Musical’ is one of my favorite shows, as cheesy as that is,” said Amanda McHenry, who plays the role of Sharpay, a stuck-up girl who rules the school.
Catch performances of “High School Musical” at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday or 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Nell J. Refield Performing Arts Center, 505 Keystone Ave. in Reno. Tickets cost $6 and can be purchased at the door or in advance at www.showtix4u.com or by calling 789-5671.