May 2, 2008

Exhibit 9: High school musicals

For many an aspiring pop star, high school musicals are the initial tableaux of discovering their own talent in front of a paying audience. The institution is now the subject of much reverence thanks to a series of television shows and concert tours under the franchise title High School Musical, featuring teenagers who have deferred their G.E.D.'s to warm the hearts of an audience that can afford the exorbitant ticket prices, and their parents.

At one time, the high school musical acted as a penal colony for those unable to participate in athletics or Future Farmers of America. These outcasts, numbed from years of torment by nose tackles and the agriculture industry, found solace and camaraderie in the anonymity of a chorus line in South Pacific.

The selection of lead and supporting roles in the high school musical schemata follows a very specific code of instructions, formulated and copyrighted in the late 50's by Oscar Hammerstein:

a. Female lead: Must sing well, be flawlessly punctual, and well-regarded by peers though not freakishly popular. Should not have an athlete boyfriend. Must bring thermos of hot tea to each rehearsal. Virgins preferable, although this condition is not easily enforceable. Must mistrust extras, but should not subjugate or belittle them in any way.

b. Male lead: Good singing voice optional, though subject should not be entirely tone-deaf; maintaining steady tone without a hint of vibrato perfectly acceptable (occasionally ideal, see: Henry Higgins, My Fair Lady). Sturdy build is positive, though often unattainable. Tall enough not to get bullied, but polite enough to be pleasantly avoided. Must hope to find girlfriend in chorus and maintain relationship at least through opening night. Must think beer is exotic. Should not acknowledge extras in any way.

c. Female supporting role: Reserved for girls with "personality." Must sing with "character"; that is, should opt for brassy pluck rather than operatic ability. Should be able to conjure specialty dialect ("New Yawk," deep Southern, nasal, psychotic) at will. Can never look as if she knows more than either of the lead actors. Red hair a definite plus. Must struggle in math and science, but excel in English literature. Must get stoned with extras at least once, optimally during closing night party.

d. Male supporting role: Should be gay.

The most popular high school musicals, until recently, were those whose principal characteristic was being set in a specific location. For example: South Pacific's most important overtone was that it took place in the South Pacific Ocean. This was also the case with:

  • The Sound of Music (which took place in Austria)
  • A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (ancient Greece)
  • How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying (New York City)
  • Cabaret (Nazi Germany and/or badly run San Francisco nightclub)
  • Oklahoma! (Akron, Ohio)
  • Cats (the seventh circle of Hell and/or Baltimore).

As such, the unspoken star of the high school musical was the set designer, whose charge was to convince the audience of realistic location and authenticity through the use of colored butcher paper. The set designer was never introduced to the rest of the cast, since he either thrived on his position's invisibility or was on parole.

The Disney metacommentary High School Musical (2006) was a landmark in theatrical self-examination: a movie musical about teenagers finding valuable identity components through participation in a high school musical. The franchise has already spawned two sequels, including a film. Indeed, the success of High School Musical led Disney to sign the creators to a 75-year contract to present one new production per year. The annual series follows the lives of the same students from the original High School Musical, from their mildly disappointing community college tenures through their confused and forgetful final days in state-run, unsympathetic nursing homes.

Critics are said to be looking forward to the 24th installment of the franchise, featuring all the cast members at an AA meeting where they contend with the failure of their post-high school acting careers. It is rumored this installment will feature Corey Feldman in the role of "Steve the Counselor." The premiere of the 24th episode is scheduled for Cleveland's Playhouse Square in the year 2030; at present the waiting list for tickets is 60 years long.

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