Lyric Theatre starts its summer musical season with a production of Disney's "High School Musical 2," in which Troy, Gabriella and their friends find summer jobs at the Lava Springs Country Club, which is owned by the father of meddling Sharpay, who hopes to win over Troy and get all of his friends fired.
As the summer progresses, romantic entanglements and misunderstandings abound, and questions about priorities and loyalty are raised when Troy has to choose between his love for Gabriella or the myriad of opportunities that the wealthy Sharpay can offer him.
"HSM2" is directed by Alan Muraoka, who also helmed Lyric's production of the original "High School Musical" in 2007. Due to the success of that show, Lyric was one of the first theaters in the country given permission to stage the sequel.
Muraoka is best known for his role as Alan, the proprietor of Hooper's Store, on TV's "Sesame Street" "? a role he'll return to in the fall as the beloved children's program celebrates its 40th season. He also has extensive national and international directing credits, and has appeared in six Broadway shows.
Muraoka said his acting experience brings a unique understanding to his role as director.
"I know their journey and I know what I like in a director when I am an actor. So I try to bring that to the table to make that experience a positive and affirming one," he said. "Some directors like to direct with fear, and I like to direct with love, and it seems to work."
As usual for Lyric, the cast is a mix of professional and local talent, some of which are returning from the company's 2007 production.
"The great thing about the local talent is that a lot of them are high-school age. That energy and that innocence are very hard to capture in a completely professional cast," Muraoka said.
He said one of the biggest challenges in adapting the film for the stage was that it's a complicated blend of theater, music video and live concert. Another significant challenge was trying to create quick and fluid transitions that could match scores of timeline and location changes in the movie, while also re-creating the lush, privileged poolside environment of a country club.
"As much as I'd like to like to do it the way they did in Greek and Roman times, I just can't flood the theater," said Muraoka, who wasn't familiar with the Disney production's phenomenon status before he was hired to direct the first "HSM."
"I had no idea, but watching the movie for the first time, I understood the infectiousness of it. There are some really touching numbers," he said. "Because it's a Disney show, I don't want it to get to me. There's that part of me that says, 'I'm more sophisticated than that,' but there are numbers in the show that automatically tug at my heartstrings whenever I hear them."
Muraoka also praised the series for its broad appeal and for bringing a whole new audience into the theater to see a live show.
"I remember my first experience with live theater when I was in elementary school and how exciting it was and how it sparked something in me," he said. "So maybe that one experience of sitting in the theater will birth the next generation of directors and performers. It's this generations' 'Grease.' It's one of these family musicals that anybody can come enjoy on some level.
"Is it Sondheim? Absolutely not. Is it Shakespeare? Absolutely not. But it's not trying to be and is there something to it? Absolutely!"
High School Musical 2 by Lyric Theatre stages at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N. Walker.