Gunn Performing Arts returns to Spangenberg Theater to present “High School Musical”

After a four-year hiatus, Gunn Performing Arts is back in Spangenberg Theatre to present “High School Musical,” their first production in Spangenberg since “In the Heights” in 2019. They were supposed to perform “Romeo and Juliet” in March of 2020, but the performance was canceled in accordance with COVID-19 precautions. This month, performances will span across the next two weeks from March 17-25, with the opening night and gala on March 17 and the understudy performances on March 23.   

The play is based on Disney’s 2006 film “High School Musical,” which follows the new girl at East High School, brainiac Gabriella Montez, who meets star basketball player Troy Bolton during winter break. After Gabriella and Troy accidentally audition for the Winter Musical, the whole student body starts to examine the cliques they belong to.  

Theater Director Kristen Lo chose “High School Musical” to commemorate Gunn Theater’s productions returning to Spangenberg after not performing in the theater for four years. “We were looking for a musical that we thought would be fun and joyful, and we wanted to start with something a little closer to home as we welcome in a new audience and students who haven’t acted on the Spangenberg stage before,” Lo said. “We also thought it has a fun history, with a lot of this generation growing up on it.” 

Lo made efforts to include various student groups across campus in the musical, such as the cheer, dance and basketball teams. “I really tried to make this a musical where we could accommodate some of the different groups on campus who maybe were not reached out to before, so they could get to showcase their talent to a lot of people,” she said. 

In the few weeks prior to opening night, the cast and crew have been focused on assembling and fine-tuning the details for the performances. “We are working on the designer run-through, where we show what we have to all the designers, and they give their feedback on lighting, staging (and) costumes,” Lo said. “Once we do the run-through, it’ll be really clear on everything we need to work on for the next two and a half weeks.” 

Senior Fae Crane’s experience playing Gabriella Montez has differed greatly from playing characters in other Gunn Theater productions. “We have worked on finding ways to express our emotions through singing rather than acting because it’s been a while since we did a musical,” she said. “Really exaggerating those expressions is something that I’ve learned.” 

In fact, the “High School Musical” production itself diverges from the typical types of plays Gunn Theater presents, as they often spotlight lesser-known pieces. “A lot of productions we’ve been putting on are something that’s kind of hidden within the theatre community, but I think the fact that “High School Musical” is Disney is a big factor in why people know it,” Crane said.  “I think it’s going to attract a lot of crowds.”

The familiar setting of the play has allowed Sidhant Lochan, who plays Troy Bolton, to empathize with his character.. “Troy isn’t that different from me—he’s just another high school kid,” Lochan said. “Getting into character, for me, is envisioning if (the play) was my life and what reactions to things and what emotions I would have in scenes.”

Getting into character, for me, is envisioning if (the play) was my life and what reactions to things and what emotions I would have in scenes.

— Sidhant Lochan

With the musical’s large ensemble, including the four cliques—jocks, thespians, brainiacs and skaters—ensemble members, such as skater junior Tommy Sullivan, have also had the opportunity to further explore their characters. “As an ensemble character, I get to create the personality and feelings of my own character,” he said. “I feel like that’s a lot more expressive and theatrical than just having a character set for you.”

Being back in Spangenberg, the production is taking place on a larger scale than those done in the past couple of years. With a cast of over 70 students, co-costume crew head junior Sofia Hussian has had to create costumes to fit specifically within the early 2000s era. “(The) mood board was heavily influenced by 2000s red carpet looks because ‘High School Musical’ is a really nostalgic production for lots of people,” she said. “We really wanted to go all out with the costumes and make sure that it looks like 2006, so that means lots of bright colors and dresses over jeans.” 

With the majority of characters in the musical being high school students, Hussian collaborated on costume choices with actors. “It is a little bit more modern of a piece, so we could pull things from (cast members’) closets and ask them what styles they like to make sure that everyone was feeling like their best self,” she said. 

In addition to the change in the era, there are also many quick costume changes throughout the musical. “The quick changes have been really intense and go by really fast but it’s been great because everyone’s working together and now it’s like a well-oiled machine,” Hussian said. “Everyone knows exactly what their part is and does it so quickly and efficiently.”

Along with more complicated costumes, the set design has been more complex, as it features a two-story component, making this set unlike any others which co-construction crew head sophomore Jackson Lamis has worked on. “This was the biggest set that’s been built since ‘In the Heights,’ which was before COVID-19,” he said. “I’ve never built anything this big so it was a lot of work. The main problem was making sure we followed the safety guidelines to have the second story be safe and available to work on. There was a bit of a learning curve, it was almost like driving: at the start it was  really slow, but once everyone got comfortable using the tools, we got a lot faster and efficient.”

Co-paint crew head junior Nina Rajwar agreed that the set design for “High School Musical” was different from previous productions. “Painting sets for ‘Translations’ and ‘Comedy of Errors’ was more technical things whereas ‘High School Musical’ was definitely more mass production, where we have the same wall texture and same paint making it a bit more uniform,” they said. “We’ve had to make everything super big and look like a high school. They (Gunn theater production sets) all have different artistic ways of expressing themselves.”

To purchase tickets and find more information about performance dates and ticket prices, go to