First, there were the fabulous, full-color animated movie features. Then came the triumphant invasions of TV programming, adult comedy flicks, magnificent theme parks, multiple TV networks, and Broadway.
Were there any entertainment worlds that the mighty Disney Empire hadn't conquered?
Turns out there was one final frontier those Buena Vista folk had their eyes on - the vast, incredibly lucrative pre-teen/teen entertainment market. When we're invaded by grandkids, our pre-teen Rebecca is all over "Hannah Montana," and our TV is no longer our own. Teens are similarly wrapped up in "High School Musical" and its sequel.
"It's the big-ticket, and it's sweeping the country," says director Michael Dove, who will bring a big-budget production to Fort Mill High School, March 13-18. "The 'High School Musical' phenomenon is everywhere. Everybody in the country is kind of swept up into this musical for the last couple of years. And then of course, they had 'High School Musical 2.' All the kids were having parties to watch 'High School Musical 2.'"
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After rocking the campus in recent years with "Footloose" and "Grease" - and regularly filling the FMHS Auditorium with loyal supporters every year - Dove saw the Disney confection as a natural. His students love it, and their parents don't mind going with the flow.
"Good, clean family entertainment," Dove observes. "It was just a natural to do."
Now, those of us who have resided on another planet during the past two years - away from teens, teen culture, and (this is almost unimaginable) the Disney Channel - may need to spend a period in detention for a remedial course in East High Wildcats-ology. It's a fairly quick study if you remember the cliques, the pettiness, the pecking order, the politics, and the aspirations of your high school years.
Troy Bolton is the playmaking star of the Wildcats basketball, son of coach Jack Bolton, and the key to winning the state championship this season after countless years of second place frustrations. Revolving around him are the lesser sports fanatics of the Jocks circle.
Gabriella Montez is the dream girl he meets at a karaoke sing, math and science whiz, queen of the Brainiac clique, and East High's last best hope of winning the immensely important Scholastic Decathlon Championship.
But the karaoke encounter has led Troy and Gabriella to try out for East High's musical extravaganza, straining their relationships with their respective cliques and ruffling the feathers of ... Ryan and Sharpay. That's the brother-and-sister tandem who have ruled the theater roost since the ancient days of kindergarten, starring in every play together, and the presumptive leads in the show that interlopers Troy and Gabriella have auditioned for. These are the royals of the Thespian clique, subservient only to drama teacher Ms. Darbus in the theater firmament.
No, Ryan and Sharpay won't kill to get the leads in the East High musical. Short of murder, however, anything goes.
Zach Runnels and Rachel Tripp will be the Troy-Gab dream couple, opposite Kelsey Mula and Joel Dixon as the scheming Evans sibs. Sam Rawls is Coach Bolton, and Brittany Sandy is the stern, snobbish Darbus. There are 43 talented singers, dancers, and actors onstage altogether in this high school epic - often at the same time.
Fort Mill High shelled out $3,000 in Disney royalties and $4,300 more for a set of backdrops specially designed for the show. Not to worry, Dove says, these FMHS spectacles more than pay for themselves.
"We just pour the money into the next show," he confides. "We're not in the moneymaking business We just like to try to make the next show as good or better than the one before. So you've got to raise the bar a little bit for each show."
Evening performances begin at 7 p.m. The March 16 show, however, is a 3 p.m. Sunday matinee. Tickets, $10 for adults and $5 for students, can be reserved online at fortmillchorus.com via PayPal with a $1 handling charge added to each ticket.
Dove and his cast have also raised the bar promotionally, offering meet-the-cast High School Musicals parties on the campus commons one hour before the March 15 evening performance and the March 16 matinee.
• Perry Tannenbaum of Tega Cay is the senior performing arts critic for Creative Loafing.