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Above: Emma McIlhagga (Mrs Darbus) and Cam Spicer (Coach Bolton)
Many adolescents and young adults are familiar with the Disney Channel Original Movie, “High School Musical.” This spring, they’ll get to experience it in a whole new way, when East Lansing High School Theater presents “High School Musical” live on stage March 16-18, 21, and 23-25.
The musical, directed by ELHS Theatre and English teacher Adam Woolsey, is just the second performance Woolsey has directed at the school. This is Woolsey’s first year in the district, but he has already made connections with students and is enjoying his time guiding young actors.
“There’s a very clear sense of (a) how badly the kids have wanted to do this show specifically, and (b) how good they want it to be,” Woolsey said. “You can tell that they really want the show to be great, because they grew up with it. And they know that everybody that comes to see the show will know half the lyrics, and they have fond memories of it.”
While a few songs are added into the stage adaptation of the original movie, the ELHS “High School Musical” production is not far off from the childhood film many of the cast can still recite scene-for-scene.
East Lansing High School Theater has a longstanding reputation for its fall productions and spring musicals. The dedication of the students is what drives the performances, according to Woolsey.
“The reality of it is they just want it to be stellar, they want it to be incredible. It’s really great to work with kids that have that commitment and sense of pride to want the work that they do to be the best.”
ELHS Senior Emma McIlhagga plays the role of Ms. Darbus, the drama teacher, her favorite role from the movie. McIlhagga has been acting since the seventh grade, and has fallen in love with theater.
“It really does mean a lot to me,” McIlhagga said. “It’s been my one constant through high school – is that I do the school productions. It’s a lot of fun for me to be able to come here in this space, and express myself – and not be afraid to be judged. I can just be myself.”
The character of Ms. Darbus calls for a flamboyant nature and a wide vocabulary. McIlhagga said she enjoys the passionate dialogues and the freedom within her character’s "anything goes, over-the-top" trait.
After McIlhagga found out that the theater program was putting on this familiar production, she was very excited.
“I grew up with the movie 'High School Musical' since it was released, with 'High School Musical 2,' and I saw 'High School Musical 3' in theaters,” McIlhagga said. “When I was told that we were doing 'High School Musical,' I was in shock, almost.”
The reaction was the same for many of her fellow students, and over 120 auditioned for the production. Over 70 students were cast in the musical.
Cameron Spicer, 18, is a senior at ELHS, but this is the first time in his high school career he will take the stage. Having acted in musicals at a younger age, and participating in a few theater classes, Spicer tuned up his acting chops.
“I wanted to audition because I’ve always wanted to do it, but with swimming being at the same time, and me being a swimmer, I’ve always decided against it,” Spicer said. “But this year being senior year, I didn’t want to regret anything leaving high school, so I tried out.”
In this production, he plays Troy Bolton’s dad, Coach Bolton. Spicer said the aspiration to be a leader is a similarity between him and his character.
Following high school, Spicer plans to attend MSU and play club water polo or attend Jefferson College in Washington to play collegiate water polo.
Through the process, Spicer has learned that stepping out of your comfort zone is worth it.
“I have learned that no matter what, follow your gut, and take chances,” Spicer said, “because taking that chance may change your whole life.”
Woolsey said the hardest part is putting together all of the separate parts and creating one cohesive program.
“There’s so much beyond just acting, singing, dancing that goes into putting up a musical like this,” Woolsey said. “Really just trying to stay on top of all of the extra things – whether it’s tech, or costumes, or whatever that may be – that’s probably the most challenging part. I find myself making to-do lists that are 30 items long, and crossing off 5 and adding 10 more each day.”
While the to-do list is always growing, it’s a job Woolsey said is rewarding. Seeing student growth from auditions to the few remaining rehearsals before the show opens is one of his favorite parts about directing.
He describes the show as a feel-good musical, with positive themes applicable to high school students.
“Beyond all the cheesiness of it being 'High School Musical,' and all that Disney Channel Original Movie kind of thing, it really does kind of emphasize this idea that you can be a jock and you can be in musicals,” Woolsey said. “I mean half of these kids are also athletes, so they’re living, breathing examples.”
“High School Musical” runs March 16-18, 21, and 23-25 at East Lansing High School, which is located at 509 Burcham Drive.
Information about tickets, show times, and more is available here.
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