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STAGE REVIEW

Cute, boppy, and fun

With energetic dancing and airy songs, 'High School Musical' pulls in kids

BEVERLY -- "High School Musical" is to the theater what Harry Potter is to literature. Whatever adults may think of its artistic merits, they can't help rejoicing at its power to pull in new devotees to the art form they love. And, whatever its artistic merits actually are, it's entertaining enough to let those same adults enjoy it along with their kids.

So it's small wonder that North Shore Music Theatre's production, the New England premiere of the Disney Channel movie's stage adaptation, has been selling like crazy. And, to judge from the enthusiastic young audience packing the house at last night's press opening, this show does what it's supposed to do: It gets kids hooked on live theater.

Devotees of the TV movie will note some changes for the stage, notably the addition of a narrator -- a guy who reads announcements, which neatly double as scene transitions, over the school's PA system. (In an oddly antique reference for this youth-oriented show, he calls himself "the Velvet Fog of East High School.") For the most part, though, the show remains pretty much what it was on the small screen: a poppy, boppy musical about high school kids putting on a musical.

In the leading roles, of course, we have two kids who have never actually performed in a musical: Gabriella Montez, the "brainiac" math genius, and Troy Bolton, the basketball star. They meet cute in a karaoke bar over winter break, then re-meet even cuter when -- surprise! -- Gabriella turns up as the new kid at Troy's Albuquerque high school.

You'll never guess: They end up auditioning for the spring musical, a "neofeminist," "outside the box" reworking of Shakespeare called "Juliet and Romeo" -- with a happy ending, yet. This doesn't sit well with the president of the drama club, Sharpay, and her twin brother/minion, Ryan, and so . . .

Well, plot's not really the point here. Suffice it to say that Sharpay schemes, Ryan abets, and the school's assorted cliques, from nerds to jocks to skateboarders, get involved. But, as one character asserts (in another nod to the Dumbledore of Avon), all's well that ends well, and, yep, it does -- with plenty of singing, dancing, and hoops along the way.

Barry Ivan directs and choreographs the large cast, which combines professional and high-school performers, with a lively sense of teenage energy and drama. The music, largely unchanged from the movie's grab bag of songs by a horde of writers, mostly follows a generic pop path, with nudges into rap-influenced rhythms for the jocks, power ballads for the leads, and sprightly but instantly forgettable dance tunes for everyone else. Still, the North Shore team puts it all over with enthusiasm.

As Gabriella, Addi McDaniel has a lovely tone in the higher range but sometimes sounds forced, even strident, when she has to belt along with David Nathan Perlow's Troy. He has a strong rock sound, but the two voices don't always blend as smoothly as they could. Here's what the kids will want to know, though: Yes, he's cute.

So are Wade Laboissonniere's perky costumes; so is Dex Edwards's gym-floor-and-study-hall set; so, even, is the pink-booted and cold-hearted Sharpay of Kate Rockwell. So, for that matter, is everything onstage.

"West Side Story" this ain't. But as a gateway drug, "High School Musical" will do just fine.

Louise Kennedy can be reached at kennedy@globe.com.

'Related'

High School Musical

Musical with book by David Simpatico, songs by various artists, and music adapted, arranged, and produced by Bryan Louiselle

Based on the Disney Channel Original Movie written by Peter Barsocchini

Directed and choreographed by: Barry Ivan. Musical direction, Stephen Purdy. Set, Dex Edwards. Costumes, Wade Laboissonniere. Lights, Jack Mehler. Sound, John A. Stone. Wigs and hair, Gerard Kelly.

At: North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly, through July 29. Tickets, $50-65. 978-232-7200, nsmt.org

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