Interview with High School Musical Director, Mark Hooper
South Hill Park’s hugely popular Easter production is back and dancing on the tables, with Disney’s smash-hit show High School Musical showing at our Wilde Theatre (Wed 17 – Mon 22 April). Read all this upcoming show from its director Mark Hooper (Madagascar: A Musical Adventure 2018 and Suessical The Musical, 2017), who gives us a first look into the show and tells us what audiences can expect.
What is High School Musical about?
High School Musical is about togetherness and embracing diversity and those who appear ‘different’. Troy (a Jock) and Gabriella (a Geek) find themselves singing karaoke and falling for each other at a New Year’s Eve party. At the end of the evening they go their separate ways but are later unexpectedly reunited at East High; no one could have predicted how their relationship and love of music would change the school forever. The pair must struggle to make it to the auditions for the musical, fighting off a jealous Sharpay, fighting against the ’status-quo’ and meeting their obligations to the basketball team and the maths decathlon.
How did you approach adapting High School Musical for the stage?
Staging a well-known movie-musical requires an amount of ‘translation work’ to recreate the essence and magic of the original film. It is a balancing act between including iconic moments that will spark nostalgia for fans, while also finding room to put our own artistic stamp on the production. When staging a well-known work, people have preconceived expectations about the production they are coming to watch. As a creative team, we work hard to ensure their high expectations are met. We did it successfully with Madagascar and strive to do the same again this year for High School Musical.
How would you describe your style as a director?
In terms of directing style, it is really more about the individual needs and requirements of the piece. I like to work with big casts on large productions such as this. As a team Tim (Musical Director), Charlotte (Choreographer) and I all share the same desire to present work of the highest quality. We aim to be precise and consistent and we work hard with the performers to achieve this. Experiencing unity on stage is what makes the hairs on the back of our necks stand on end, it is what engages an audience and is the difference between a show being ‘good’ and ‘exceptional’ – we want exceptional.
I also have a real passion for integrating all of the technical elements of production into the show; lights and sound should enhance the storytelling and seamlessly integrate with the story as if they are characters in their own right.
How are rehearsals going?
In rehearsals, I start by finding ‘the shape’ of the production first. Blocking scene, establishing the practicalities, learning the music and the dance sequences. We then go back to the top of the show and start working on the detail, discovering characters, playing within the loose rules we established in the earlier part of the process. We spend the last few weeks doing ‘around the table’ work where we discuss characters and relationships in more detail. Finally we run the production in the rehearsal room and the key creatives (director, choreographer and musical director) make notes and refinements before moving into the theatre to plot lights and sound (technical rehearsal) and put it all together in the dress rehearsal before opening to the public.
Why is now a good time to revive the story?
I think there are a few reasons. The generation who fell in love with this story thirteen years ago are now young adults, some with young families. It is a great time to relive childhood nostalgia or introduce their children to a story that meant so much to them. It is also pertinent given the political landscape we find ourselves
in. Although the show is two hours of high-energy, fun for all of the family, at the heart of the show lies a message of embracing ‘what you don’t know’ and that we don’t always have to ’stick to the status quo’.
And if nothing else it is a great way to switch off and have a great time with family and friends.
Are there any differences from the film?
As Ms Darbus would say, we ‘risk, risk, risk’. It is LIVE and we have been ambitious with the choreography this year… keeping 16 basketballs in a dance number under control is no easy task. Unlike the film, we are also not miming to a track, we found the most incredible singers to star in the show and you will be blown away by their voices. It is also packed full of live, infectious energy and it won’t matter if you are a fan of the film or not, you’ll not be able to help loving every second of it.
What do you enjoy the most about working on this Easter production?
I love the fact we work with an adult cast and a junior cast (Easter School). We rehearse the production around the cast’s day-time jobs during evenings and weekends from January, we then welcome the Easter School Ensemble to the show just five days before the technical rehearsal. In this time they have to learn all of the big numbers in the show which is an extremely tall order. The most enjoyable moment is watching the Easter School integrate with the adult cast to create one, seamless production. A real testament to the talented Easter School participants.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced so far?
Working with a large cast is difficult, not only in terms of getting everyone up to the same high and consistent standard but also working around their other commitments. Sometimes it can be very hard to get a full cast in the rehearsal room. For the creative team, this is actually one of the biggest challenges.
From a production perspective, it has been unexpectedly challenging to manufacture certain elements of the set so that they match the look and feel of the film. The red cafeteria tables (which you will see in the show) were one of the hardest set pieces the team have been asked to create but look incredibly effective now.
What can audiences expect?
A musical-extravaganza packed with all of the songs, characters and choreography you would expect to find in High School Musical. A high-energy show with production values you would expect in London’s West-End and the talent to match.
Easter School places are still available.
If simply watching a show is not quite enough for the kids in your family, then give them something to look forward to and book them a place on our Easter School 2019. In just five days 7-17 year olds will be taught by theatre professionals before appearing in our Easter production, High School Musical. This is an unforgettable experience for all Easter School participants.