Deputy Culture Editor – Theatre
The Cecilians’ production of High School Musical 2 was phenomenal. Why not chase this feeling?
Of all the theatrical companies on campus, the Cecilian Society is the most polarizing, fielding a rabid base of both supporters and detractors. Established over 60 years ago, they have consistently retained the title of most recognizable musical theatre society in the hearts of those of us who pay attention to the vibrant and sometimes vicious underbelly of student theatre. The society’s most recent work, their annual Weekend Show, follows on the footsteps of Urinetown, an arguable stumble that was flanked by several biting editorials. But rather than another polarizing piece or a grasp into the annals of shoddy shock-rock, the Cecilians presented the direct alternative: High School Musical 2.
It was, to say the least, an absolute blast. A classically campy production with enough self-awareness to joke with itself and the original subject matter, basic choreography countered with full force enthusiasm from the open chorus cast, and hysterical delivery of some of the most iconic lines of the 2007 masterpiece (that term being subjective to those of us who prefer the vastly superior first movie). The cast was relaxed and clearly happy, reveling in missed lines and campy direction for more applause, taking frankly hilarious liberties with their characters, and having a genuinely good time. Through their freedom came a shockingly good performance; they played deep into the joke of the whole situation and came up with gold. This turn-around begs the question: why can’t all their shows be this unabashedly good?
It’s no secret the Cecilians have fallen into a pattern. Stemming from the 2016/2017 season, a charming, accessible Weekend Show is followed by a more obscure Main Stage. It’s understandable: the pressure to remain current while not resorting to trite productions is very real. But there is a definite difference felt both in the audiences and in the casts of these massively polarizing pieces. Due to the lack of buffer shows between each performance, the society has no chance to nuance or refine, thus the transition from blockbuster to niche is all the more intense.
This observation is in no way a call to increase show production, nor a slight against their upcoming production of Stephen Schwartz’s Children of Eden, a musical retelling of the Genesis story (which indeed might be the wholesome palate-cleanser needed). It merely poses that perhaps having a bit of fun is the solution to the recent missteps by a lauded company. The publicity, word of mouth, and audience involvement for High School Musical 2 have been astounding, purely because of its reliability as a show. At risk of beating a dead horse, could the same be said for Urinetown?
The power of a connective, enthralling, and genuinely entertaining piece is huge and has been proven by the sheer fun that was last Sunday’s performance. High School Musical 2 is in no way a theatrical masterpiece, but simply a jumping off point into a world of creative freedom and emotional opportunity that hasn’t been trodden by the Cecilian’s Main Stage in two years. Imagine the flourishing (that Eden might very well set off) if the company focused on musicals vital to the human experience, on diverse composers and subject matter, on uplifting and involving productions that provoked thought and inspiration in their audiences? If their casts could bring to the Main Stage the same amount of energy and freedom exhibited in their weekend? I for one would be willing to buy a ticket.
With one show of their two show-cycle finished, we have a while before the Cecilians appear again. Here’s hoping that when they do, they will with the sophistication, creative liberty, and enthusiasm we were treated to at their weekend show.