"High School Musical": The Movie, the Show - the Religion?

Times theatre critic Charles Isherwood issued a pretty embarrassing reviewSaturday of the Chicago theatre debut of "High School Musical," based on the thunderously popular made-for-TV teen movie.

The title over Isherwood's review, "A Prayerful Three-Pointer From the Orchestra Pit", made little sense, but neither did much of Isherwood's strained extended metaphor of musical as religion.

"New religions do not arise every day, so serious note should be taken when a belief moves from cult status to bona fide faith. Recently a nascent creed has stolen the hearts and minds of thousands of young Americans. Its key tenets include the idea that everyone gets along really well in high school, and thus that being a teenager is super fun.

"The name of this new religion is 'High School Musical.'

"What began as a mere made-for-television movie (on the Disney Channel, yet) has grown quickly into an international phenomenon both commercial and spiritual, at least for tweenage youngsters (mostly girls). DVDs, CDs, T-shirts, memorabilia and a spinoff concert tour have provided ardent adherents with the relics, icons and apostolic encounters necessary for proper devotion. Now the flock anxiously awaits the coming of a second revelation. The new testament, 'High School Musical 2,' will first be shown on the Disney Channel on Friday.

"At the same time, a fully staged replica of the original movie - a singing and dancing crèche, you might say - has at last been assembled and sent out on the road to help believers keep the faith. The live production of 'High School Musical' played preview dates in Detroit and Philadelphia before opening officially here in Chicago at the LaSalle Bank Theater, where it plays through Sept. 2. As a chronicler of the theatrical theology, journalistic duty required that I be in attendance.

"For the uninitiated, some background is perhaps in order. Just as new faiths grow out of old belief systems (see Judaism and Christianity), 'High School Musical' is essentially derived from a previous mythology promulgated in the latter days of the 20th century. Namely, 'Grease.' (That religion has of course not wholly died out; indeed, representatives of a new sect emerge on Broadway this very month.)"

It goes on and on like that for several hundred words before ending (mercifully), but not before more snide remarks about religion.

"But religious devotion is not really about encountering the harsh truths of the world, but about seeking some solace for them and finding the inspiration to change them.

"On that score, call me a skeptical believer in 'High School Musical' and its power to improve the world. 'We're all in this together,' the chorus of the show's climactic anthem, is probably as profound and morally instructive as most religious precepts. So, go Wildcats! Yay, theater!"