Arielle Jacobs is Gabriella Montez and John Jeffrey Martin is Troy Bolton in the touring production of Disney’s High School Musical coming to San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Growing up in Half Moon Bay, Arielle Jacobs wanted to be a pop singer – the next Mariah or Whitney. She’s not there yet, but she did manage to snag a leading role in one of the hottest properties of the 21st century.
Jacobs is starring as Gabriella Montez. If you’re a tween (around the ages of 9 to 12), that name is enough to elicit squeals of delight. For those of you a little out of that demographic, Gabriella Montez is one half of “Troy and Gabriella,” the jock and the brain, the Romeo and Juliet if you will, of Disney’s cultural phenomenon known as High School Musical.
HSM, as it’s known in cyberspace, was an original musical made for the Disney Channel. No one quite expected the level of popularity it found. The TV movie sequel, aptly titled High School Musical 2, became the most-watched TV program ever on cable.
There’s an entire HSM empire as only Disney could create it replete with every product imaginable, burgeoning pop careers for all the movie’s young stars (Zac Efron, who plays Troy in the movies, even has potential as a breakout movie star after his star turn in last summer’s Hairspray movie) and even a touring ice show (which played the Bay Area last year).
Jacobs’ take on Gabriella can be seen beginning April 15 at San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre when the touring stage production of High School Musical opens for a two-week run as part of the SHN/Best of Broadway season.
On the phone from a tour stop in Des Moines, Iowa, the chipper Jacobs, 24, says she and her family lived in Half Moon Bay until she was 14, when the Jacobs clan moved to New Jersey.
But Jacobs has fond memories of our little coastal hamlet. “I remember the pumpkin festival, of course,” she says. “To this day I’m obsessed with pumpkins. At one of our tour stops, we went to a glass-blowing factory, and I blew a glass pumpkin.”
Jacobs also recalls clam chowder at Barbara’s Fish Wrap as “the best in the whole world” and remembers riding horses on the beach and through the eucalyptus forest.
“That smell still reminds me of the beach there,” she says. “And you can’t beat those sunsets.”
As a kid, Jacobs was truly serious about being a singer. She took voice with Teddi Lightfoot in San Francisco, and she and her brother, Adam, joined a group called Razzle Dazzle Kids and did little cabaret and Christmas shows around the Bay. One year she was Raggedy-Ann then worked her way up to Mrs. Claus.
She also studied music at the San Francisco Conservatory, and though guided toward classical music, she fell in love with show music.
“I really liked performing and communicating story through song,” she says. “I started to lean in the musical theater direction, and my parents were really supportive, and I have to tell you, I was famous for starting something and getting bored half-way through. I started playing soccer because my brother played soccer. My parents took me to all the practices and bought the equipment. I was 7 or so. I went to the first game and quite at half-time.”
Luckily her interest in theater remained constant. And so did her brother’s. Apparently the Jacobs family ate show-tune Wheaties for breakfast. The two Jacobs siblings made their professional theater debuts in 1994 in TheatreWorks’ Honor Song for Crazy Horse. Adam was Little Hawk and Arielle was Blue Swan. Jump ahead a few years, and while Arielle tours the country in High School Musical, her brother recently finished a gig on Broadway in Les Miserables.
“My parents don’t know quite what they did, but they’re really proud of us,” Jacobs says.
Even before there was a stage version of HSM, Jacobs says she was alerted to the movie because friends and casting directors kept telling her she looked like the original Gabriella (played by Vanessa Hudgens). So when auditions rolled around, Jacobs felt primed.
“I could relate to Gabriella,” Jacobs says. “I didn’t just look like her, I am a lot like her.”
Being on the inside of the HSM phenomenon, Jacobs says she can understand why the show has become such a hit. “The story is very universal,” she says. “It’s very much a model for kids to show them what high school is going to be like and how it’s possible to pursue different things and follow your dreams and get the support of friends, family and teachers.”
Keen HSM observers will notice differences between the TV and stage versions. For instance, onstage there’s a new narrator character, Jack Scott, the school announcer. There are also some new songs – “Cellular Fusion” recalls “The Telephone Hour” from Bye Bye Birdie as the students of East High blaze up their cell phones spreading rumors about Troy and Gabriella and the school talent show – and some new complexity in the relationships, most notably between brother and sister Ryan and Sharpay. Drama teacher Ms. Darbus and basketball coach Bolton also have a new level of adult interaction.
Touring to cities large and small has been a wearying but ultimately satisfying experience for Jacobs, who also paints and takes photos. When she’s done with the tour, she’s heading to Brooklyn, where she just bought an apartment. Her next goal: to star in a Broadway show, of course. But there are other things to do first.
“I’m going on an artist’s retreat,” she says. “I’m going to paint for four days during a break in the tour. I’m also hoping to write some music. I wrote a children’s book and want to get that published as well.”
As if she weren’t busy enough touring and maintaining an official backstage blog (highschoolmusicalblog.com), she also has her own Web site (www.ariellejacobs.com) and an environmental site called www.helphealtheearth.com, which opens with a photo of Jacobs literally hugging a tree.
“I like to direct a lot of the HSM fans to that site,” she says. “It’s all about helping the environment and appreciating nature. It’s really hard on the road to find people who care about recycling. I’m trying not to get depressed too much that people don’t seem to care.”
Spoken like a true Half Moon Bay kid.