Known for its brilliant soundtrack, High School Musical, the biggest stage production to ever hit Dubai, makes its debut.

There are many reasons for High School Musical's (HSM) success. Zac Efron's blue-eyed, floppy-haired charm, Vanessa Efron's sugary sweet schoolgirl act, the catchy melodies, Disney's clever marketing or the current craze for choreography sweeping audiences from Los Angeles to Laos.

John Payton believes it's all of the above, and then some. “It has clever writing and such polished music. It's a story of cliques and first love, told in a very Disney way so that it appeals to a wide audience. HSM has completely freshened up the musical."


Payton helms the stage production of HSM, which make its much-awaited Middle East debut tonight at the Centrepoint Theatre, DUCTAC, in the Mall of the Emirates.

The concert follows the same structure as the film, with two new songs written especially for the stage. Tickets for the opening night have already been sold out.

Featuring a cast of 100 actors, drawn from 15 nationalities, and a 25-member strong crew from the West End, this is the biggest-ever stage production to debut in the Middle East.

The show is organised by Popular Productions in association with West End Stage Experience.

For producer Lucy Blakeman, the run-up to tonight's debut was filled with wow factor given the scale of the production.
It began with the huge, American Idol-esque auditions in May when 560 hopefuls sang and danced for a part on the show.

“We had open auditions just to get an idea of the kind of talent here. We saw enough greatness and when the opportunity to stage HSM was available, we grabbed it by the horns," recounts Blakeman.


From the auditions, the cast was whittled down to 100 actors, ranging in age from 10 to 23, trained by a highly experienced team of West End directors, choreographers and musical directors.

“The rehearsals were like those for any West End production. They were quite intense, and the actors were initially shell shocked. Mostly the parents were wondering about why their teenagers got home only to fall exhausted into their beds," says Blakeman.

“The time difference was a big challenge, given that we did a lot of work while still in the UK while our cast was here and our set designer was in Canada. The logistics of bringing it all together were daunting: all 600 costumes had to be sourced from the USA, with measurements that we got from the cast. We hope they fit right!" Blakeman recounts.

Jumeirah College student Donovan Preston plays Troy Bolton, the jock captain of the basketball team who discovers his inner drama geek. For 17-year-old Donovan, whose rendition of the Bill Withers hit Ain't No Sunshine won him the part, this is the biggest achievement of his young life.

Like Troy, he enjoys sports and singing too — having trained under a singing coach for the last two years.

“I never thought I'd get the part," he says. One reason could have been his close crop at audition time, a far cry from Zac Efron's signature high- maintenance do. While his hair still hasn't got there, we're told that Donovan is on his way to becoming Dubai's biggest teen heartthrob.

“I like the fact that Troy is a cool guy, with no hidden agenda. He respects people, is flexible and stands up for what he believes in."

Donovan's schoolmate and neighbour, the vivacious Alexandra Dewar plays Gabriella. This was her first attempt at drama. “No one in my family, neither my older nor my
younger sister have ever done something like this," she exclaims, adding, “I am a bit of a brainiac."

For Alexandra getting the part topped a successful week in school which saw her being elected head girl. “It's a defining moment."


“Being in the play has made me a more confident person. I will be more involved with school productions now," she says. The other lead cast members are Abbie Weatherly, who plays the haughty Sharpay, while Matthew Melone essays her brother Ryan.

Donovan is of South African-British parentage, while Alexandra is Scottish, but their American accents in the play are bang on, says Payton. The cast were also trained in the art of dunking and spinning basketballs on their fingertips by basketball coach Luqman Rashad.

For those of us whose definitive high-school musical is still Grease, HSM proves to be comfortingly familiar terrain. Like Grease, it has smoking hot choreography (by Drew Varley) and infectious melodies.

A story that is quite similar too of teens that stand up to peer pressure and follow their hearts. Troy, a popular high school basketball star and Gabriella, a shy, academically gifted newcomer discover they share a passion for singing and audition for the school musical.

Only to be thwarted by their peers who'd rather they stayed within the brainiac and jock cliques. How they negotiate the tricky terrain of high school cliques while staying true to themselves makes up the rest of the story.

The 7 to 17 demographic have already embraced HSM's catchy music and the old-as-hills storyline. Their parents like it too.

Troy Bolton
Actor: Zachary David Alexander Efron aka Zac Efron

This American actor and singer who shines in the role of a popular yet grounded basket ball star Troy Bolton, started his career in 2002 with guest roles in television shows including ER, Firefly, The Suite Of Zack & Cody and The Replacements.
But it was the offer from Disney in 2006 that catapulted him into the big league and made him America's favourite tween pin-up boy. He is all set to play a role in Paramount's musical remake of the film Footloose following his star turn in Hairspray.

Gabriella Montez
Actor: Vanessa Hudgens

Hudgens was no stranger to Hollywood when she chose to play the role of the shy and intelligent Montez who excelled in math and science. After making her debut in 2003 with the film Thirteen, she branched out to do several other films and guest roles in television series such as The Life Of Zack & Cody, Still Standing and The Brothers Garcia.

But like Efron, it was the success of HSM that placed her on Forbes magazine list of top-earning stars under 21. She is currently riding high on the success of her sophomore album release Identified and her love life is not lacking either she's currently dating Efron.

Sharpay Evans
Actor: Ashley Tisdale

This 23-year-old singer who plays the role of a scheming teenager out to sabotage the auditions of Troy and Gabriella, entered the world of theatre and arts at the age of 8
when she bagged the leading role in the Broadway musical Les Miserables.

It's believed that she made history when two of her songs from High School Musical What I've Been Looking For and Bop To The Top managed to break into the Billboard Hot 100 simultaneously.

Ryan Evans
Actor: Lucas Grabeel

Soon after moving to Los Angeles in 2003, Grabeel garnered a role in Disney's original movie titled Halloween Town High. But it's safe to say that playing the role of Sharpay's fraternal twin in HSM, which required him to showcase his singing and acting prowess, was his big break.

His character's heightened sense of fashion and eternal struggle to step out of his domineering sister's shadow made him endearing to fans. Apart from this role, he has also made guest appearances in TV series such as Boston Legal and Smallville.

Did you know?

Released on January 20, 2006, High School Musical was the most successful TV film ever produced by Disney. A television sequel High School Musical 2 was released in 2007 and the feature film High School Musical 3: Senior Year is to be released theatrically this October. A fourth installment, High School Musical 4, is being written.

HSM in a Nutshell

A modern-day adaptation of Romeo & Juliet, High School Musical is a story about two high school juniors from rival cliques — Troy Bolton, captain of the basketball team, and Gabriella Montez, a beautiful and shy transfer student who excels in math and science.

Together, they try out for the lead parts in their high school musical, and as a result, divide the school. Despite other students' attempts to thwart their dreams, Troy and Gabriella resist peer pressure and rivalry, inspiring others along the way not to “stick with the status quo".

About the event

Opening show will be held on Tuesday night at 7.30pm, followed by matinee shows at 2.30pm and evening shows at 7.30pm from July 24 to July 26. Tickets available at the DUCTAC

Theatre box office.
More details at

Donovan Preston plays troy Bolton
Age: 17
Favourite food: Hotdogs.
Favourite film: 300.
Loves: Playing the guitar and watching Discovery channel.
Can't stand: Rap music.
Favourite hangout in Dubai:
Madinat Jumeirah.
Family: I live with my parents and older sister.
Best thing about HSM: The massive amount of energy in the show.
Celebrity crush: Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel.

Alexandra Dewar plays Garbriella Montez
Age: 17
Favourite food: Sushi.
Favourite film: Titanic.
Loves: Running, swimming, dancing, acting and singing.
Can't stand: Negativity.
Favourite hangout in Dubai:
Madinat Jumeirah.
Family: Dad, Mum, and my two sisters
Best thing about HSM: The amazing people involved, everyone is friendly and the energy from all the cast.
Celebrity crush: Zac Efron (ha ha), Johnny Depp, James McAvoy and Leonardo Dicaprio.