It’s easy to laugh at High School Musical, and kid culture in general. Metrosexual Zach Efron as MoonDoggie. Vanessa Hudgens as…er.. Vanessa Williams. It couldn’t be more bland and divorced from reality. I’d worry about my kids if they weren’t mesmerized by it.
Only 6 and 4, when High School Musical queues up, and it does so often, the yelling stops, the toys drop. Tiny eyes fuse on the set. They go ballistic dancing to the high octane numbers while my princess-obsessed four year old squeezes her lids shut and twirls about, all alone and deliciously sad, on ‘Gabriella’s’ heartbreak songs. They go to the same magical place all of us yearned for as children. While aimed at teenagers and tweens, I’m guessing that mine aren’t the only tots moved by the extremely silly High School Musical and it’s burgeoning spin offs the same way I was mesmerized by the pop music, 40’s blockbusters and movie extravaganzas of my childhood. If I’m lucky, dumb old HSM will stay with them all their lives.
When I was a kid, back when there was one remoteless TV in the house, one stereo and perhaps two radios, I was baffled by the grown-ups switching off the old musicals, swirling Temptations and Supremes we were inhaling in favor of news, sports or talk radio. How dumb was that? Vividly, I remember wanting to throttle the aunt who cruelly parodied the overwrought choreography of the 5 Stairsteps as she dramatically changed the channel. It physically hurt to know that, just behind Walter Cronkite or one notch over from baseball, Michael Jackson was crooning his heart out. Thank god I didn’t know then how broken that heart already was by the time we were both ten years old. Hence, the point of HSM and why we grown ups should perhaps think twice before dismissing it. Why we should, in fact, abet its popularity and refrain from cataloguing the countours of its vapidity.
While my parents often bogarted variety shows they were uninterested in, they made a point, in those pre-vcr days to make specialn TV watching room for the annual showings of Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz and the like, those magical places of beautifully safe danger we could foolishly wander into knowing full well we’d be rescued each time. And to soaring music, beautiful clothes and exuberant choreography no less. I’m not the first parent to be seduced by HSM and its effect on both themselves and their besotted children. But the sweet significance of HSM didn’t really sink in until I was sitting in the bleachers at my son’s track meet this summer.
Lost in a crowd of teenagers waiting their team’s turn running, HSM never came up directly in the conversations as they squirted each other with their water bottles and cell phoned friends sitting four tiers away. But every few minutes, one girl or the other, and it was always a girl, would abstractedly start singing a few bars from the HSM score. The boys would fall silent as nearly every girl joined in. No one seemed to care how her voice sounded (believe me, they weren’t singing to show off. not those voices), and they didn’t try to project and draw attention to themselves. They just went to East High, if only for a minute. The place where all the cliques learn to get along and put on a show! The place where ordinary teenagers become extraordinary. Each time, the song would simply fade away, unfinished for no reason I could discern. More distracted texting, then back to the tedium of coaches yelling and moms like me trying to stop their toddlers from tripping over them yet again.
I’m happily surprised to learn that more than a thousand high schools nationwide have staged productions of HSM; no doubt, in a fear years newly minted Broadway stars will be citing the phenomenon as the catalyst for their own interest in performing. As for me and mine, we’re doing the unthinkable. I’ll be camping out at a local high school tomorrow morning, hoping to score sold-out tickets for our home grown version of HSM. Hannah Montana’s got nothing on Sharpay and Chad. I’m so afraid I won’t be able to, I haven’t told the kids yet. I have to admit, I’m actually looking forward to it. It’s a sing-along version and my heart will be slightly broken if mine don’t fling themselves headlong toward the stage to join in the magic.