Idolator Takes To The Ice With The Kids From <i>High School Musical</i>

jharv | October 1, 2007 11:15 am
So what did you all do with your Saturday evening? Well why you were all drinking in grownup bars or taking in art house movies or watching indie bands in intimate clubs or re-alphabetizing your Modern Library collection, Maura and I were braving disapproving looks from concerned parents eyeballing us like potential kidnappers as we tried to brave a wriggling army of screeching rugrats, all while resisting the urge to spend $15 on cotton candy because it came with a sweet purple plastic fedora. We were front row–well, as front row as I could afford, which wasn’t very–at Madison Square Garden for “the one and only live fusion of songs, dance and team-spirited fun inspired by the smash hit Disney Channel Original Movie.” Yes, this weekend Idolator took in High School Musical: The Ice Tour:

I would be lying if I said this misadventure started because we wanted to get a better grip on what High School Musical‘s audience sees in something that a grouchy, thirtysomething music critic army has grudgingly accepted as an “interesting phenomenon” that’s also keeping the record industry from flatlining. But really it was me seeing the words “HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL ON ICE” scrolling across the marquee of a New Jersey sports arena a month ago, and both of us deciding this was just one of those things we had to do. Or, as Maura wondered when she remembered that the last time we were at the Garden was for Panic! At The Disco almost a year ago: “Why do all of our wacky adventures seem to involve winding up in an audience that’s half our age?”

Of course, as soon as we left the quiet confines of the no-kids-allowed restaurant we had dinner in beforehand and arrived at a more-than-mobbed MSG, as children scrambled over every available surface and vendors shouted like auctioneers in our ears about $20 programs, my intentions of playing tween Richard Attenborough suddenly seemed like a really bad idea. (And apparently we weren’t the only ones slumming it with the middle school set that evening; spying a handful of over-20s a few rows ahead of us, we figured we must have inadvertently been seated in the “ironic adults” section.) Given that I’d generally rather be punched repeatedly in the neck than surrounded by kids, as we waded to our seats through the excitable tots waving light-up noise-makers, the appeal of hermitage suddenly became that much clearer. Plus Maura wouldn’t let me have any beer.

Produced by Feld Entertainment–which, as Maura pointed out, is the same company that puts on the Ringling Bros. circus, which should give you a rough idea of the production values, the show’s pace (compressing a pair of two-hour movies into a single two-hour show), and the general level of sugar-shocked audio-visual overload–the set was minimal, everything (desks and ladders and lockers and basketball hoops and this strange harpsichord/celeste-lookin’ thing they were trying to call a piano) made of chilly (if easily moved), silvery metal. Well, except for the dune buggy. And the Bud Light Zamboni. The skating wasn’t really out to wow you with daredevil, back-flipping technqiue. (Though I’m hardly an expert on the art.) The fashions were pretty much beyond me. (Was it just the golf subplot of High School Musical 2, or are kids really wearing plaid shorts up around their nips these days?) Oh, and the CGI on the giant monitor was pretty cruddy–I’m sure even my technically inept ass could have knocked together the circa-1992 animations of spinning baseballs with iMovie–but at least there was a lot of pyro to make up for it. And the Zac Efron character took his shirt off once.

As for the music, well, we both agreed that High School Musical‘s soundtrack was obviously composed by renegade producers who discovered a polka-dot time capsule from 1990 and decided that all popular music should be crafted from feature gated guitars, quasi-“dance” rhythms, and the kind of slow-dance prom-bait that’s mawkish enough to make secular-era Amy Grant blush. We each heard hints of Roxette, C&C Music Factory, Robbie Nevil (who of course helped write a few of these these ditties), Vanessa Williams, freestyle, on and on. When it stayed uptempo, High School Musical: The Ice Tour was like listening to an off-Broadway show based around old episodes of Club MTV; when it was in ballad mode, the songs were as drippily easy to get caught up in as any Disney duet from the last two decades. (Except of course that these were live humans in leotards lip-syncing rather than two cartoons on a flying carpet.) Much like the plot–which is a toothless but technically impressive distillation of centuries of teen drama/comedy, from Romeo and Juliet to Josie and the Pussycats–the music of High School Musical is designed both to appeal to kids who see pop culture as tabula rasa where all clichés are brand new, and their parents, forced to listen to the soundtracks 10X per day, who can at least “enjoy” memories of their own junior high and high school years spent listening to the Big (Late) ’80s on America’s Top 40 with Shadoe Stevens.

And so how did throwing two goofballs who spent their junior high years doing just that–goofballs several decades removed from High School Musical‘s target audience, one of which had never so much as listened to one of the soundtracks–into the Disney Channel deep-end turn out? Well, it “worked,” at least for one of your Idolators: Maura leaned over to me halfway through the show to say that she was “totally buying both of these soundtracks” now, with “Get In The Game” as her clear favorite. (Though it’s probably worth pointing out that Maura doesn’t really require a lot of arm twisting to invest in music that sounds like late-’80s cheese-pop.) As for me, the lobe that stores the memories of being subjected to endless repeats of Bye Bye Birdie (major homage moments throughout) by my sister was pretty entertained, but I have no idea how much of that was the sheer incongruity of spending a Saturday evening normally spent doing more adult activities (like, I dunno, watching a shitty cover band meander through Eagles and CSNY songs in a South Jersey rib joint, which is how I spent the night before) surrounded by things I normally despise (children, ice skating, musical theater, children).

But High School Musical 2 has been long since wiped from my hard drive, with no plans to reinvest, unless someone wants to bring an ice rink to my house. Even for someone who’s been known to tear up to Avril songs (eat it) in his weaker moments and who enjoys all sorts of wack bubblegum (including happy hardcore, for Chrissakes), HSM‘s emotionally big-n-blunt razzle-dazzle story-songs and grip-the-hand-of-the-person-next-to-you ballads remain clever, meticulously constructed to avoid even a wasted note or too-long outro, and fearsomely catchy in a years-of-expensive-R&D kind of way, while coming off as cold to the touch as (wait for it, wait for it) an ice rink. (Oh snap. Now that’s pop crit.) If you don’t edit a pop music blog, own (or rent) a child or two of your own, or just enjoy being the creepy loner eating a $12 sno-cone at a tween pop extravaganza, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend dropping $70 on High School Musical: The Ice Tour, but for a little sociological field research into the biggest pop phenoms of the last few years, it beats the hell out of juggling your rent to afford Hannah Montana tickets.

High School Musical: The Ice Tour [Official Site]