Eastlake musical goes after stereotypes

April 12, 2014

By Neil Pierson

New: April 12, 11:14 a.m.

When the Eastlake High School drama club takes the stage April 24, it’ll be reinforcing some stereotypes about teenagers while breaking down others.

Eastlake’s annual spring musical, directed by Rachelle Horner, takes aim at the highly popular and recognizable “High School Musical,” a story that gained fame through the Zac Efron- and Vanessa Hudgens-led Disney films of 2006-08.

During rehearsals last week, the 37-member cast – the largest of any production in Horner’s five-year tenure – seemed to relish the fact they weren’t straying too far from their real-life personas. They’re high-school students playing high-school students.

Chandler Gerdes, a junior who stars as basketball team captain Troy Bolton, said the show’s common description as a modern-day “Romeo and Juliet” is an apt one. Bolton and the bookishly-smart Gabriella Montez, played by junior Ishanie Choudhury, struggle to develop their relationship and follow their true callings because of peer pressure.

“I think, even though it perpetuates a lot of stereotypical norms … it also shows we can do whatever we want,” Gerdes said.

Self-conscious interactions can be common in any high-school environment, and Bolton’s character puts them front and center, Gerdes said.

“Even though he’s very outgoing and he’s accepting to all the new things that are happening around him, he’s still an awkward guy,” he said.

Ross Coken, a senior, is Bolton’s right-hand man in the role of fellow jock Chad Danforth. With the help of Taylor McKessie, played by junior Alanna Martinez, he hatches a plan to keep Bolton and Montez apart for the sake of the basketball team’s success.

‘HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL’

Who: Eastlake High School drama club
When: 7 p.m. April 24-26, 1 p.m. April 26
Where: Eastlake auditorium
Tickets: Available at the door only; $12 general admission, $9 for students and senior citizens

“All this weird hilarity ensues and then we … realize the error of our ways and we tell our friends that we really shouldn’t have done that, that our stuff isn’t as important as what they want to do,” Coken explained. “We should put the people we care about above ourselves.”

Martinez, who is making her stage debut for the Eastlake drama club, said McKessie’s character forces her to be outgoing, which may help her overcome a bit of stage fright.

She also believes there are some inherent challenges in doing a show that so many teenagers and young adults have seen.

“It’s obviously not Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens up there on stage,” Martinez said. “We’ve tried to embody what Disney really wanted to be the theme, what they wanted to portray, and I think we’re doing a pretty good job with that, but it’s a little different mostly because we’re all high-schoolers and we’re currently doing pretty much the same things that (the characters) are.”

Horner said several of the cast members have experience with other stage companies. One is currently performing with the Redmond Academy of Theatre Arts, another with a Seattle theater in Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Gerdes previously lived in New York City and got into acting because he knew an off-Broadway director.

The long process of perfecting a musical is exhausting, Horner indicated, but also rewarding because she helps develop communication and leadership skills in her students.

“It’s very different from teaching my regular class,” she said. “I get to know the kids in a very different way, definitely a more personal way outside of their academics, which is really nice.”

Coken said he “fell in love with drama” during his days at Inglewood Middle School, and now serves as Eastlake’s club president after three years of doing shows.

“I get to be in charge of something I’m absolutely obsessed with,” he said.

Choudhury said students should come see Eastlake’s performance even if they’re already familiar with the story.

“It’s ‘High School Musical.’ It’s part of our childhood,” she said, “and I just think it would be fun to see people you know bring that to life.”

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