High School Musical 3: Senior moments

Perhaps it’s a sign that I’m old and have bad taste, but Disney’s High School Musical 3: Senior Year kept reminding of my favorite bad movie musical of all time: Grease 2.

You’ve got a story that goes nowhere, a primary romantic couple that hits a few road blocks but ends up together, a cap-tossing graduation scene and the must unrealistic school musical of all time (in Grease 2 it involves the wretchedly wonderful production number “Girl for All Seasons”). You’ve also got a leading man in a salvage yard (in Grease 2, Maxwell Caulfield is building the ultimate chick-magnet motorcycle) and a song that echoes one of the worst numbers ever: “Who’s That Guy?” (in HSM3 the line occurs during a paean to prom night called “A Night to Remember,” which also happens to be the name of a movie about the Titanic, but I digress).

Surely, HSM3 is far more accomplished than Grease 2, and the stable of Disney stars, now in their final round of HSM servitude, actually appear to be close to their characters’ age and not 35. Though all those fresh-faced kids should mightily try to avoid playing high school students in their ensuing projects.

I’ll say this about Senior Year — it’s not as good as HSM2, which just about gets the formula perfect, and it’s a heck of a lot more fun than the dreadful, soul-numbing movie version of Mamma Mia!.

Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens are as appealing as ever, though Efron’s charisma pretty much blows pretty Vanessa off the screen. Ashley Tisdale, with her sassy new nose, has fun with her ultra-bitchy character, Sharpay, though on the big screen it becomes quite apparent that Ms. Tisdale is not a great actress, nor does she have a whole lot of comic flair. Lucas Grabeel (right) as Sharpay’s, twin, Ryan, is mostly consigned to reaction shots as Sharpay flounces about, flipping her extensions and making the most of her cutie cute outfits. I’m a little sorry Ryan doesn’t get to fully come out of the closet and take a boy to prom. Instead he takes Kelsi(Olesya Rulin), the “composer” of the school shows. I’m not sure if that means Kelsi is a budding lesbian and the two recognize each other through the golden high school haze or Kelsi is doomed to a life of fag haggery. I’m hoping for the former. For the best analysis of HSM3 as gay metaphor, check out Prince Gomolvilas’ Bamboo Nation report here.

The songs in this final installment, well, they stall. There’s a sameness to them such that when there’s a reprise of “We’re All in This Together,” it’s like a fresh New Mexico breeze. Efron sounds like a boy band standby and Hudgens sounds more than a little electronic, which is strange.

Sharpay and Ryan’s Broadway-size duet, “I Want It All,” is fun, but the best all-around number is Efron’s duet with Corbin Bleu, “The Boys Are Back,” complete with a childhood flashback and an homage to Kevin Bacon in Footloose, the remake of which happens to be a future Efron project. Sure Efron’s got the goods, but Bleu matches him in the charisma department, and of all the HSM stable other than Efron, this is the guy to watch.

The ballads are boring, but because the budget is bigger this time out, we get boring ballads in the rain, in a rotating treehouse and on the Stanford campus. Oddly, many of the production numbers are performed on moving sets that appear to be stage ready — could it be director Kenny Ortega is just making it easier for the inevitable stage productions of HSM3 to replicate its “movie” magic?

The choreography — by Ortega, Chucky Klapow (sorry, credited onscreen as Charles Klapow) and Bonnie Story is actually a lot of fun. There’s a heavy Michael Jackson influence and a whole lot of irresistible energy. Watching the beefed-up cast dance to the lame title song (it took three tries to finally get a song called “High School Musical”?), it made me sad for Ortega — not that he needs my pity, but I lamented the missed opportunity known as Newsies, the early ’90s Disney musical helmed by Ortega that should have been great. If Ortega had only had anything approaching this budget (reported to be measly $13 million but still bigger than the TV versions), he might have made Newsies something more than a wonderfully awful little musical that has spawned gazillions of fans over the years.

This is innocuous movie musical making, and there’s surely a place for that (no one has quite revived the harmless spirit of the old Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland musicals quite as effectively). But I wanted this final installment, since it already has the attention of the world, to be a little bolder and fold some real life into the fantasy. There was a chance to be great or be fabulously bad — like Grease 2 — but that would have required taking a risk, and this money-minting Disney thoroughbred wasn’t about to do any such thing.

And now, just because I worked up an appetite for it, here’s Michelle Pfeiffer singing “Cool Rider” set to a montage of scenes from, yep, Grease 2.

Disney hatches a `High School Musical’ flop

The Walt Disney Company never has handled success very well. Surprisingly, abundance of imagination can lead to a hit, then absence of imagination can kill it dead.

Look no further than the “High School Musical” franchise. What started out as a cheap little TV movie one-off has turned into a pop culture behemoth, spawning a hugely popular made-for-TV sequel, an ice show, a touring stage version, a gazillion youth stage productions, a soon-to-be-released threequel on the big screen…and now one of the worst reality TV shows imaginable.

Musical theater actually made some reality TV inroads — as annoying as they might have been — with MTV’s “Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for Elle Woods,” which actually did re-cast the lead in a floundering Broadway show and pumped up the box office and the youth popularity factor.

As if Disney’s “HSM” franchise needed any more attention, Disney-owned ABC launched a summer reality series called “High School Musical: Get in the Picture.” The idea was that talent scouts would scour the nation from coast to coast (Alaska and Hawaii included) and pick a dozen young performers (not all teens, but all teen-ish), many pulled from high school drama programs, to humiliate and eliminate week to week. Nick Lachey hosts, and he wanders in from time to time like the amiable guy from down the street who hopes someone will give him a beer.

And the prize? Well, that’s a good question. It’s not money (oops, goodbye ratings). It’s not exactly fame (hello ratings basement). You have to pay attention to even figure out what the prize is: appearing in the closing credits of High School Musical 3. What? Oh, and they might get a recording contract with Disney — as the legal experts put it, you win a “talent hold.”

I’ve been watching, hoping there was something theatrically blog-worthy about the show, but it’s a waste of time. I feel sorry for these kids, many of whom are quite talented. Clearly ABC-Disney has spent a load of money on this thing, but try as they might to drum up drama and cat fights and romantic hook-ups, it all just fizzles.

The only redeeming part of the show is the performances by the kids. Though given horrible coaching, lame storylines and terrible blocking by their “expert coaches,” the young performers do well. The show is a huge cheat (what a surprise) because we supposedly see the kids sitting in empty rooms “rehearsing” with each other, then when it comes time for the performance, they’re moving around a fully built-out set, having blocked every movement and spent time singing along with the pre-recorded music. Clearly we never see any of the real rehearsal.

And the songs. Ick. Sometimes the producers are smart and choose Ben Folds or Jason Mraz. In the last episode, “Connect,” here’s the rundown: “I Don’t Wanna Be” (Gavin DeGraw), “Austin” (Blake Shelton), “Boston” (Augustana), “Bleeding Love” (Leona Lewis) and “One Year Six Months” (Yellowcard).

Then, after the kids perform, the coaches basically rip them apart — not to their faces but to the camera. At the end of the episode (the next one is tonight, Monday, Aug. 18), two kids are relegated to “the chorus.” That means they stay on at this prestigious school of fake TV arts, but they don’t get to work with the really talented kids. The whole point is supposed to be that winning is only the BEST part — the real humiliation comes in small increments throughout the journey.

Sticking talented kids in a lame reality series nominally tied to a Disney franchise really is a new low for reality TV and for Disney, a company that should know better.

Visit the official Web site, watch full episodes and behind-the-scenes clips and see the horror for yourself at: abc.go.com/primetime/highschoolmusical

Here’s my favorite contestant, crazy Bailey:

`Mamma Mia!’ and other movie musical mistakes

I know some people who have just flipped over the movie version of Mamma Mia! now plaguing movie theaters. I am not among them.

Having seen the stage version several times, I knew just what I was in for. I enjoyed the show on stage, especially the first time, when the show made its U.S. premiere in San Francisco. I adore the music of ABBA and though the stage version was campy in the right ways, stupid in the right ways and smart in the way it was campy and stupid.

I also adore Meryl Streep when she sings, as she does so brilliantly in Ironweed, Postcards from the Edge, Death Becomes Her and A Prairie Home Companion. I was, however, unprepared for just how ineptly made the movie version of Mamma Mia! was. Director Phyllida Lloyd, who also directed the stage version, had no idea what she was doing, and she and screenwriter Catherine Johnson (who also penned the show) had absolutely no new ideas about turning a stage show into a movie. They even use obvious theatrical lighting for several of the numbers…and all of this is happening on a real Greek island (a Greek island, I might add, that often looks like a soundstage, even when it isn’t). Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Early on I was annoyed by how Lloyd hardly ever let a scene just transpire. She didn’t let actors talk or even complete a sentence without the camera jumping or the awkward of dubbing of lines attempting to smooth over a rough edit. She makes Streep come across strident and ridiculous (and MUCH too old – at nearly 60, Streep looks great, but when we’re spending so much talking about her wild summer 20 years ago when she got pregnant by one of three possible boyfriends, we have to think: What’s wrong with this 40-year-old woman who can’t seem to get her life together?). And she wastes the abundant talents of Julie Walters, sidelined in one of the “best friend” roles. Oddly, Christine Baranski, another of the best friends, gets the movies best number, “Does Your Mother Know,” because the number is contained, and we’re able to get a real sense of Baranski’s performance. This is unlike Walters’ big number, “Take a Chance on Me,” which ends up scrambling across rooftops and making Walters dangle from a roof like a damsel in distress. Horrible.

The closing credits, with the full cast decked in ’70s ABBA finery, could have been fun, but in my bad mood, cultivated by every frame of the movie, I wanted to throw Pet Rocks and burning bras at the screen.

I will say I’m happy that Mamma Mia! is making money because I want the movie musical to continue, despite this creative setback.

But from what I’ve heard, we’re heading into risky territory with upcoming cinematic musical projects.

First, they want to make a sequel to the movie musical Hairspray. A sequel. Never a good idea. The entire creative team from the movie musical (including director/choreographer Adam Shankman and composers Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman) will be on board. Shankman told Variety: “I never thought of musicals as franchises, but it certainly worked with High School Musical, and the idea of working with that cast again, and creating new material and music, is a dream come true. John (Waters) has such an original and extraordinary voice; we all can’t wait to see what he has come up with.”

God only knows what they’ll come up with, but my feeling is they should leave well enough alone.

And here’s another unnecessary project: It’s time to do the “Time Warp” again. MTV is going to remake The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Yes, the 1975 movie that became a midnight cult classic and inspired more men to wear makeup and fishnets than any other film, is going to be made for TV. Maybe in time for Halloween and maybe with some of the music from the stage show that didn’t make it into the movie.

Are there no original ideas left in the world of movie musicals? What’s next, a remake of My Fair Lady? Oh, wait! Yes! And Emma Thompson has been tapped to write the screenplay with Keira Knightley as Eliza Doolittle.

Originality sure ain’t what it used to be. I’m scared that the movie musical I’m most looking forward to – based on one moment in the preview that takes place on the basketball court and in the bleachers – is High School Musical 3.

Just for kicks, let’s actually do “The Time Warp” again.

Theatrical blogosphere

We here at Theater Dogs love the idea of blogs, obviously. We used to love newspapers, but now, not so much. They’re so…what’s the word?…pagebound. Sure there are good writers at newspapers (really good writers, actually), but on blogs, you can be sassy (snap!), you can be quick and you can add as many photos and videos and Web links as you want. Do that dumb ol’ pile of newsprint.

I just got back from a trip to the Midwest (and the dang airlines couldn’t get us back in time for the opening of High School Musical at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco, so you’ll just have to go yourself and send me the review so I can share it with other Theater Dogs, or you’ll just have to re-read my interview with the delightful star of the show, Arielle Jacobs, from Half Moon Bay). Anyway, in the Great Midwest (Indianapolis, actually) I found myself with some time on my hands at a computer with a dial-up modem. That made blogging not such a possibility, but I did spend 12 hours looking at two Web sites (dial-up is slooooow). Kidding. I checked out a bunch of theater-related Web sites, some local some not, some blogs, some not, and wanted to make sure you knew about them as well.

The two big nationals I check all the time are Playbill.com and BroadwayWorld.com. They have a lot of the same news, but they also have a lot of original content and make a genuine effort to include news from outside New York. Other good ones include TheatreMania and Broadway.com.

A really cool site that gathers theater news from around the country is the Ohio-based Theatreforte.

A national site with really good local coverage with an excellent (and active) chat board is TalkinBroadway.com. The chat board is called All That Chat, and you want the West Coast edition.

One of my favorite local bloggers is San Francisco playwright Tim Bauer, whose Direct Address blog directly addresses local productions as well as the daily life of a — you guessed it — San Francisco playwright. Another is Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, whose I Will Dance for You is just a delight to read and will keep you up to date on the life and work of the Hunter Gatherers author. And speaking of local playwrights, Prince Gomolvilas used to be local, but he’s in the Bay Area a lot, so he qualifies. Check out his Bamboo Nation blog for a very good time.

Berkeley’s Impact Theatre maintains a pretty active blog called Impact Splatter. Check it out.

Foothill Music Theatre keeps up a terrific blog with great input on theatrical subjects of all kinds (especially FMT when there’s a show going). Check it out.

When the California Shakespeare Theater season gets rolling, they have excellent blogs — usually directors, actors, etc. checking in when the rehearsal process starts, right up through the production. Check it out here.

And then there are some of my favorite newspaper writers who maintain excellent blogs: Karen D’Souza at the San Jose Mercury News and Chloe Veltman at the SF Weekly.

I know that’s just the tip of the theatrical blogosphere iceberg, so to speak, so please let me know what I’ve missed. I’d love to include more.

Write me at chiatovich@gmail.com or post a comment.

Arielle Jacobs: From Half Moon Bay to `High School Musical’

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.

High School Musical runs April 15-27 at the Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., San Francisco. Tickets are $23-$85. Call 415-512-7770 or visit www.shnsf.com or www.ticketmaster.com for information.

‘High School Musical’ coming to SF

Let the squealing begin.

Disney’s tween entertainment behemoth High School Musical has just been announced as a “special spring engagement” in SHN’s Best of Broadway season in San Francisco.

HSM, as the kids call it, has already been two phenomenally successful made-for-TV musicals on the Disney Channel, a string of best-selling soundtrack, sing-along and scream-along CDs and innumerable spin-off products from backpacks to makeup kits to kissable Zac Efron posters.

Though we’ve seen numerous community and school productions of HSM in the Bay Area, the production arrriving in April of 2008 to the Orpheum Theatre will be the first professional version of the show.

HSM on stage has a book by David Simpatico (adapted from the original movie script by Peter Barsocchini) and a score that has all the songs from the original soundtrack plus two new songs. The live orchestra and cast numbers 34.

Says Disney Theatrical Productions president Thomas Schumacher (also a San Mateo native): “Our stage version of this great property has been mounted as a direct response to overwhelming demand. As someone who has been passionate about theater since I was a kid, I am thrilled that we are touring this remarkably popular title as a fully realized stage production, and most certainly introducing countless young people to the world of theater for the very first time. You can’t ask for more than that. It’s a great joy and privilege for us to be able to produce and present the Disney Channel’s enormously popular property on stage.”

The creative team includes director Jeff Calhoun (Big River), choreographer Lisa Stevens and music supervisor Bryan Louiselle.

And no, Mr. Efron, Vanessa Hudgens nor Corbin Bleu will be in the cast.

Tickets will range from $23 to $85 and will go on sale Dec. 17. Visit www.shnsf.com for information. For tickets call 415-512-7770 or visit www.ticketmaster.com.

Ice, ice, baby

Admit it. You’re wondering what it was like.

Cheesy? Silly? Stultifying? Genius?

Yes, yes, not so much and no.

We’re talking, of course, about Disney’s High School Musical: The Ice Tour, which opened Thursday at the Oracle Arena in Oakland and then heads to San Jose’s HP Pavilion.

The easy answer is High School Musical, the phenomenally successful Disney Channel movie musicals, are as good on the ice as they were on the small screen. Given your age bracket, that could mean many things.

The experience of The Ice Tour is just that – it’s an experience. The on-ice choreography, the pyrotechnics, the gee-whiz positivity of the blandly perky pop score are all fine and dandy. But watching the audience – to borrow from Lily Tomlin here – is the real art.

Looking around the arena, you couldn’t help but be moved by the gazillions of kids – young, mostly girls, ages 8 to 11 I’d guess – singing along with every word, waving their red-and-white East High School pennants with the abandon of a junior pep squad. The screams were ratcheted up to Beatles ’64 intensity.

And what’s even funnier, is that a whole lot of the moms (not many dads, though there were an intrepid few) had equally big smiles on their faces and were also singing along in between bites of popcorn and nachos.

The pop-culture phenomenon of High School Musical really is something to see – and hear.

As for the show itself, directed by Broadway veteran Jeff Calhoun and choreographed by Chucky Klapow and Cindy Stuart (faithfully following the movie moves created by Klapow, director Kenny Ortega and Bonnie Story), is a fast-moving re-creation of both HSM movies. Act 1 finds Troy meeting Gabriella on New Year’s Eve, their romance and their split alliances – to the school musical, to each other and to Academic Decathlon (her) and the basketball team (him). Act 2 is a summertime fling, with the East High Wildcats working at a luxurious resort and the Paris Hilton-y Sharpay making a move for Troy.

All the songs are squeezed into the nearly two-hour show, and the momentum of the piece cannot be denied. By sheer force of cheerfulness, everyone – even the reluctant adults – has a good time.

Jordan Brauninger and Lane Walker are suitably adorable as Troy and Gabriella, though I must confess I was fonder of Sandy Rucker and Peter Bonard Muck as weirdly intimate brother-sister team Sharpay and Ryan.

The one big improvement over the movies is Troy’s big solo, “Bet On It.’’ In the movie Zac Efron bounces through the ultra-green golf links like a junior Kevin Bacon trying to cut footloose. But on the ice, Brauninger (lip-synching the movie soundtrack, as all the skaters do) gets to show his moves in a much more impressive manner.

I could live another day without hearing “You Are the Music in Me” or “Get’cha Head in the Game” again, but every time I’m exposed to HSM, I react retroactively: my 10-year-old self would have flipped for this squeaky-clean Disney phenom.

Visit the official High School Musical: The Ice Tour here.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that I gleefully accepted Disney HSM swag including red-framed glasses that blink red lights; a souvneir program that plays “We’re All in This Together” when you open it; red-and-white pompoms; and a sign to cheer for my favorite character (no, I didn’t choose Troy or Gabriella or even Ryan — I picked the one that said CHAD in big, bold letters. All of the swag, except for the sign, has been passed on to fans under the age of 10.

Chucky on ice

So many things are good on ice _ lemonade, oysters, the Sharks _ but High School Musical on Ice? Really?

Ice Capades and Holiday on Ice, sure. But a made-for-TV movie about chipper high schoolers coming to terms with friendship, self-empowerment and sassy dance moves? Hmmm. Sounds like Disney is going to milk the High School Musical franchise — which already includes a phenomenally successful sequel to the original movie, a professional touring stage show and countless community theater productions — for all it’s worth.

High School Musical: The Ice Tour (it’s apparently passe to be On Ice) arrives in the Bay Area next Thursday and continues through Oct. 20 at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, then moves to the HP Pavilion in San Jose Oct. 24 through 28.

To ensure that Troy and Gabriella, Ryan and Sharpay, Chad and all the others retain their youthful exuberance, Disney and ice producer Kenneth Feld approached the original creative team to help make the transition to ice.

Kenny Ortega, who directed and co-choreographed the two HSM movies, recommended they use one of his fellow Emmy-winning co-choreographers: 27-year-old Charles Klapow, who prefers to be called Chucky.

Chucky Klapow was thrilled to get Ortega’s call, but there was only one problem in his mind: He didn’t know how to ice skate.

The ice folks said that wouldn’t be a problem because he could still teach the dance routines and “protect the integrity of the original moves.”

But for Chucky Klapow, not skating was not an option.

“The way I coach is by example,” he says on the phone from Manhattan just before HSM: The Ice Tour opened at Madison Square Garden. “The dancers feed off my energy. I show the move, demonstrate it so they can see how it looks and feels.”

So with the help of his fellow ice choreographers, Klapow learned to skate.

“I was doing an axle in 20 days,” he boasts. “The first one was a really bad, cheated axle, but I’ve been working on it. It’s still not great.”

So for someone who began his dancing career at 12 and has danced for Patti LaBelle, Celine Dion, Salt-N-Pepa and in Austin Powers, how does it feel to move on ice?

“Skating is a rush,” the Los Angeles native says. “It’s addictive. You master one jump and want the next one. It’s a cool feeling.”

Choreography for a movie — with everything directed to the camera — is one thing. Choreographing for an audience on three sides, not to mention the whole ice and skates factor, is quite another.

“What you can do on a floor in shoes you can’t necessarily do on a blade on ice,” Klapow says. “And the ice is so vast with the audience everywhere. You have to turn the choreography out and share the energy. The challenge was to keep each number recognizable and as true to the film as possible, but then cover a huge stage of ice. Each number was like solving a puzzle.”

For this icy HSM, the first movie and all its songs are confined to the first act. Act 2 features all the songs and plot from HSM 2. That’s a lot of show to learn, and Klapow and his cohorts were teaching all of this to three separate casts: two North America tours and one international tour.

“The whole process took about 2 1/2 months,” Klapow says. “We worked with skaters really quickly, but I’m super proud of it. Every time we set a number, it turned out to be better than we thought it would be.”

And here’s an added bonus: Klapow met someone special as a result of this near-arctic adventure.

“I met a girl during the rehearsal process,” Klapow says, and even though he’s on the other end of the phone lines, you can just tell he’s smiling. “Not only did I learn to skate and choreograph for the ice, I met somebody.”

Thinking back to those early days when HSM was just another in-development Disney Channel TV musical, Klapow says he had no idea he was about to become involved in a phenomenon.

“When I heard it was going to be called High School Musical, I thought, `Ugh. No one’s going to watch that!’ ” Klapow recalls. “But making the movie was an amazing experience. We had a ball doing it and knew it was something special. I don’t think any of us expected the level of success we got. I was just so happy I got to work on production numbers with 100 people in them. When was I going to get an experience like that again? It was like an old movie musical. The the second film was even bigger. I’m so lucky — I got to do it twice.”

The kety to the show’s success, Klapow says, is that it strikes a balance between the boys and the girls, sports and drama, sinigng and dancing, skaters and brainiacs and all the rest.

“It’s such a positive message,” Klapow says. “We’re all in this together. It’s all about teamwork, all for one, acceptance of everybody, friendship. That’s why people fall in love with it — it’s all about innocence and fun. It’s totally the `Saved by the Bell’ formula.”

Klapow will likely be involved in High School Musical 3, which is reportedly being readied for the big screen and will begin shooting in January. “I’m talking to Kenny about it,” he says.

“High School Musical: The Ice Tour” runs Thursday through Oct. 20 at the Oracle Arena, I-880 at 66th Avenue, Oakland. Tickets are $18 to $60. Call 510-625-8497, 415-421-8497 or 408-998-8497 or visit www.ticketmaster.com for information. The show moves to HP Pavilion, 525 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose, Oct. 24-28.

And check out Klapow’s Web site at www.chuckyk.com.

Hi sKool musiKal

Went home to Reno to visit the family homestead and ended up getting stranded by high winds and a big storm that canceled all flights in and out of the Reno/Tahoe airport. Couldn’t get a flight back to Oakland until Thursday, so I find my Christmas vacation forcefully extended.

What’s a guy to do when the weather is bizarre (60 mph winds, rain, snow, an out-of-control brush fire)? Why, watch High School Musical, of course. I know I’m the last person in the known universe to see this thing — the most popular thing ever committed on film, ever, EVER — so I wanted to see what the fuss was all about. It is a musical, after all, and musicals, well, they’re not my life, but pretty darn close.

And I must say, I was completely charmed by the show. I don’t think I’ll ever be a huge fan of the songs, but it all works together as a package. I actually cared about Troy and Gabriella and their attempt to be multi-faceted teenagers.

If I were a tween (and I actually am a tween at heart), I’d have flipped for this 21st-century Grease rip-off — actually it rips off Grease and my favorite bad movie of all time, Grease 2 because in that one there’s a big school myew-zi-kall, as the HSM drama teacher calls it.

My favorite line was uttered by Sharpay: “We’re dealing with people who don’t know the difference between a Tony Award and Tony Hawk.” That’s why I love drama kids: they know what a Tony Award is and they know who Tony Hawk is.