The cast of Mainstage Center for the Arts’ next show, “High School Musical Jr.” was no older than 5 when the hit TV film made its debut on the Disney Channel in 2006. However, even at that young age, the movie resonated with many of them.
“I remember when it came out,” said Olivia Foreman of Pine Hill, playing the role of Kelsi. “I wasn’t in high school, I was like 5. I still watched it and I still loved it.”
Mainstage Center for the Arts is kicking off its 31st season of its Summer Stage children’s program with a performance of “High School Musical Jr.” The show will run from July 10 through July 12 at the Dennis Flyer Theater on the campus of Camden County College in Blackwood.
This musical is a favorite for many members of the cast. Nearly everyone in the show grew up watching the film and its sequels and many members of the cast knew the show by heart before rehearsals began,
“As a child, you know all of the lyrics from the songs and everything,” said Sicklerville resident Gabriela Milillo, playing the role of Martha.
“Not a lot of Summer Stage shows we do here are set in a high school,” added Faith Furman of Stratford, playing the role of Taylor. “A lot of them are princess or fantasy-type things. This is more realistic.”
The stage version of “High School Musical” shares a nearly identical plot to the film. In the show, the lead characters of Troy and Gabriella audition for the lead roles in the school musical at East High. This causes division among the numerous cliques in the high school. Troy and Gabriella look to overcome these obstacles while proving to their peers the importance of being true to oneself.
The Summer Stage edition of the show features William Brennan of Blackwood playing the lead role of Troy and Lindsay Thompson of Sicklerville in the other lead role of Gabriella. Both actors have faced challenges with their characters, but can also relate to them in some ways.
“I’m shy, but (Gabriella) is a lot more shy at first,” said Thompson, who is performing in a lead role for the first time. “She’s very smart and closed off. I can relate to her in the fact that I enjoy school for the most part, but I’m not as closed off and shy as she is.”
“I relate a little bit to picking between a sport and musical setting since I’m a big soccer guy,” said Brennan of playing Troy, who is the captain of the basketball team in the show. “So having to compete constantly with that can be a little hard. Troy Bolton has the challenge of image versus what really makes him happy.”
Just as Brennan and Thompson can relate to their characters, most of the cast can relate to many of the themes regarding cliques. Even for younger cast members who haven’t yet reached high school, such as Sofia Palacio of Blackwood, the themes of “High School Musical Jr.” ring true to real-life experiences.
“I can relate a little bit, because middle school is that weird time where you want to look cool, you want to fit in, you want to do what it takes,” said Palacio, who is playing the role of Sharpay.
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the cast is the tight rehearsal schedule leading up to the show’s July 10 opening. Rehearsals for the show began on June 18, giving the cast less than a month to learn all of their lines, as well as the songs and dance numbers.
“A lot of the (dance) numbers are full company, so it needs to incorporate everyone,” Thompson said.
The cast has overcome this challenge by working on their lines outside of rehearsals and practicing music during down time throughout the day.
Even with the short amount of rehearsal time, the cast is confident heading into this week and believes audience members of all ages will enjoy the show and the message behind it.
“You don’t have to be what people want you to be,” Palacio said of the show’s message. “You can do whatever you want with your life.”
“High School Musical Jr.” will take the stage July 10 and 11 at 7:30 p.m. and July 12 at 10:30 a.m. General admission tickets are $12 and tickets for seniors and children 12 and under are $10. All shows will take place at the Dennis Flyer Theater on the campus of Camden County College, 200 College Drive in Blackwood. To purchase tickets, visit https://mainstage.org or call (856) 227-3091.