When the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre decided more than a year ago to take on the fabulously popular “Disney’s High School Musical,” director Jennifer Schmidt didn’t know exactly what to expect.
She knew about the “HSM” phenomenon but hadn’t seen the movie or read the script. She wasn’t sure how many kids would audition for the musical, and even once things got started, it took a while to figure out exactly how the whole thing was going to work logistically, given the cozy confines of JRT’s stage.
But it’s all worked out, Schmidt said, and the cast is ready for opening night tonight.
“It’s been great. The kids are very talented,” she said. “We had 88 kids audition for a cast of 28, plus two adults, so getting that many people onstage is a little bit of a challenge.
“And the set was a challenge. You have to re-create a high school, the gym, the cafeteria, things like that, and we don’t have much space on our stage. I redesigned the set three times. But we’re finally happy with it. It works and it looks good.”
There’s an opening night gala at Main Street Cafe following today’s 7 p.m. performance, and the musical plays Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through April 10. Tickets are $12.30 general admission and $10.30 for students and seniors.
Schmidt is used to handling large musical casts from her years of directing JRT’s popular “1940s USO Show,” and “USO” choreographer Kristin Smith is handling that role for this production, as well.
Heading up the cast is JRT newcomer Luke Rathbun portraying Troy Bolton, Science Hill High School student Emily Nagy as Gabriella Montez and Sharpay and Ryan Evans, played respectively by Dobyns-Bennett High School student Emma Hyche and Sullivan South High School student Zach Schaftlein.
Troy’s father is played by Patrick Belisle, and theater teacher Ms. Darbus is played by Pat Beard.
The story follows two East High School students — a basketball team captain and a shy academic — who meet and are attracted to each other but must overcome many obstacles to be together.
“High School Musical” started as a hit television film for Disney in 2006 and created a franchise of two more movies.
Rounding out the JRT ensemble are Averie Blackmore, Andi Broome, Annika Burley, Mackenzie Carrier, Abigail Dye, Dieter Hilje, Lydia Hyche, Colin Jeffress, Hannah Jeffress, Kathleen King, Sarah King, Emmy Lanthorn, Sophie Ledes, Myranda Logan, Jacob Lynch, Colette Minter, Bailey Pardue, Blake Pierce, Hannah Rigsby, Aly Saulnier, Caleb Seaman, D.J. Smith, Josh Smith, Taylor Way and Madison White.
Schmidt said of the audition process, “I had no idea what would happen. I knew it was a popular musical and I thought we’d have a good number of kids, but 88 was a lot. So it was a tough decision. There was so much talent.
“And it becomes what you are envisioning for that particular character, not just ranking the talent. We put hours into making those decisions. But we’re happy with it.”
Schmidt said she didn’t know the specifics of the plot when she took on the musical and thought it might be more of a fun production than one with an important message.
“But when I read the script, I realized it really does have a message. You can be whoever you want to be. Don’t let others tell you what you can be or limit you.
“In this day and age, with so many problems with kids being bullied, I think that’s a very important message. We need to accept everyone for who they are. Treat people like you’d like to be treated. And I hope we get that message across.”
The musical is made possible in collaboration with Beef O’Brady’s and Pizza Inn, and the Mary B. Martin Program for the Arts.
For tickets or more information, visit www.jonesboroughtheatre.com or call the Historic Jonesborough Visitors Center at 753-1010.
JRT is located at 125½ W. Main St.