Once settling into our Hannah Playhouse seats, the story begins with our Hellish mascot.
We get a glimpse of our devil or Joker in this case, in the form of the cheeky and charming Jules Daniel, as they mop the stage and set the scene. They are then accompanied by their henchmen, Diamonds (Marie Katsanos), Hearts (Zane Barefoot), Clubs (Faith Holley) and Spades (Lulu Harkness).
In ‘Peaked in High School: Class of 2009’ we are introduced to our six main protagonists— head girl Alice (Annie Black), quirky Ezra (Aylana Francis-Darrah), popstar Dana (Liv Pettitt), the ignored Maggie (Sophie Helm), sweethearts Jessica (Elora Battah) and Jayden (Caleb O’Halloran)-- who are returning for the 13 year school reunion, all with their own song that explains their various current woes.
Plus our valiant supporting characters– lovers Ash (Helena Faasil) and Steph (Bibi Grainer), pregnant Molly (Callie Chinery-Tompkins), and essential oil seller Mia (Peggie Barnes) whose wacky and hilarious character acting had me laughing more often than I probably should have.
For those of you, like myself, who loved and obsessively watched 2009 era TV musicals like the High School Musical movies or Glee, you’ll find yourself grinning at many wonderful references scattered throughout. For every streamer filled slushie cup dumped on Head Girl Alice’s head to the “T for Troy (Bolton)” nod in Jayden necklace, it is clear that these young performers love this content and know it well. Not to mention the clever musical homages to other iconic musicals like A Chorus Line, Hamilton and Chicago, in Lily Fitzgerald’s composition and lyrics.
The show feels at its best when everyone is on stage. Their luscious harmonies really tickled the musical nerd part of my brain.
The cast and crew should be feel very proud of their work. Putting on a musical is no easy task, let alone one that is completely original with six main characters and multiple supporting characters, all with their own song and story arc.
For such a young group of performers, the time and commitment (and passion) shone on the stage. Which was only supported by the equally charismatic band helmed by Fitzgerald. The show is at its best when everyone is on stage singing and dancing together. But it particularly shines for the first half of the second Act. I wasn’t expecting to be told to stand for Crossroad High’s hellish school anthem and I loved it.
However, seeing any show on its opening night can come with its own wrinkles, which I’m sure will be ironed out. Even though I was seated in the very front row, there were several moments where I missed important beats of the story because the performers weren’t either projecting their voices or the microphones were playing up. I found myself scrambling to try and figure out how they got to the next story beat. I assumed, eventually, that I had just missed some dialogue explaining this.
The concept is great— Hell School taken over by the charming Jules Daniel. What’s not to love? But I did find myself wishing that it was only set in high school, without the reunion aspect. If it had leaned in and put all its eggs into the 2009 high school basket, I would have found the story far more compelling and even more original.
Regardless, I enjoyed the show very much and it was clear that, despite some initial nerves, the cast was having the time of their lives and giving it their all.
If you’re in the mood for a classic musical that is fun, cheeky, full of 2009 references, and doesn’t take itself too seriously, then Hell School: The Musical is for you.