When shy transfer student Gabriella Montez and basketball team captain Troy Bolton decide to try out for the lead parts in their high school’s musical production, the stage is set for an evening of intrigue, rivalries, dynamic dancing and songs that make audiences want to sing along.
Ponte Vedra High School students will present eight performances of “High School Musical” beginning April 22. The fun, family-friendly show is based on the 2006 Disney television film that has sparked a franchise.
The cast of about 70 includes many students who are enjoying their first taste of musical theater.
“What I love about it is that there are so many first-timers,” said director and PVHS educator Jason Nettle. “I’m not necessarily out to create professional actors. I’m out to give them as much a well-rounded high school experience as possible.”
Senior Alex Hamernik, who plays basketball team member Zeke, echoed that thought. Having never performed in a stage production before, Alex wanted to try something new before he graduated.
“It’s great,” he said. “I’ve had a blast so far.”
For Alex, like many members of the cast, art imitates life. Or perhaps vice versa.
In the show, his character tries out for the school play after Troy – one of his best friends – does. In real life, Alex tried out after he learned that friend and teammate, Evan Fleischer – who actually plays Troy – did.
And, like his own character, Evan is performing in his first stage production.
“It’s a totally new experience, but I love it,” he said. “I think it’s awesome meeting a new crowd of people.”
It’s also a first for Presley Baesler, who plays Gabriella. And though she shares that with her character, Presley has to work as appearing shy.
“It’s definitely harder for me to play a shy girl, because I see myself as more outgoing,” she said. “But it allows me to find a new part of myself, a more introverted portion of myself.”
Not everyone in the cast is a student. PVHS history teacher Mark Casper plays the coach, a role he understands well as he coaches football at the school. He is also acquainted with the young actors who portray athletes in the show because they have been athletes in real life.
Presenting a musical at a time when COVID-19 has forced a number of restrictions on activities has been a challenge, but one that Nettle has accommodated.
Because the students must all wear masks, he has set the show in 2021. And he has arranged the staging so that the cast can spread out, and not everyone is on stage at the same time.
And he has had to incorporate redundancy in casting.
“Everyone in the cast knows they could be quarantined at any moment, so I’ve double-cast the show,” he said. “I have two understudy shows – so if Evan gets quarantined, James (Duncan) will go on.”
Another challenge is that only 200 people are permitted to be seated in the audience at one time. In order to accommodate the full audience, there will be extra performances.
Still, available seats are being claimed quickly, and Nettle recommends people reserve their seats prior to the shows.
“High School Musical” will be presented at 7 p.m. April 22, 23, 24, 29, 30 and May 1, and at 2 p.m. April 25 and May 2. Tickets are $10. Reservations can be made at signupgenius.com/go/70a0b4fa5a82dabf85-high. Also, a QR Code linking to the sign-up site can be found by going to the Ponte Vedra Sharks official Twitter feed, @PonteVedraHigh.