Ben Markley has never been the lead in a production. In fact, he’s never been in a play or musical before outside of productions for his church.
Markley, 16, has sung in many choirs, but his three sisters are the dancers in the family, and his mom was a drama major in college. He’s pooling all their skills and learning to become Troy Bolton, the lead basketball player who secretly tries out for a musical in “Disney’s High School Musical.” Markley watched the movie version with his family, and when his mom pointed out the opportunity to try out in the newspaper, he decided to go for it.
“I remembered it really well. I just never thought I would be in it,” he says.
Markley, who attends Free State High School, is one of more than 40 cast members in the Lawrence Community Theatre’s production of “Disney’s High School Musical,” opening Thursday on the Lawrence High School stage. The production will run through Sunday and is based on the Disney Channel original movie “High School Musical.”
In the story, Troy falls for Gabriella, the new smart girl at school he meets during winter break. They secretly try out for the school musical, throwing the opposing cliques in the school into a frenzy.
Charlie Goolsby, director of the production, says the stage version of the musical is different than the movie to account for space and set limitations. The stage production adds choruses to some songs, adds two new songs and works in flashbacks.
Goolsby, who has directed four Lawrence Community Theatre shows in the last 13 months, saw a version of “Disney’s High School Musical” in Wichita a few weeks ago. He says the audience included elementary school-aged children, retirees and young people on dates, a mix he hopes would come to the Lawrence show.
One of the challenges of the show has been making the characters believable, such as in a scene where boys dance and sing as a basketball team.
“You have to take people who may not have a skill set and make them believable,” he says. “We have kids who have perhaps never touched a basketball outside of gym class.”
Markley says he was initially most anxious about the basketball number, but his sisters helped him work on the number.
“The group’s really fired up when we do it,” he says.
Annie Wade, who plays Sharpay Evans, is on the other end of the spectrum from Markley. She’s danced since she was in third grade, done theater her whole life and is represented by an agency in Kansas City. Wade, a 20-year-old Kansas University student, really enjoys getting into the character of Sharpay, who is notoriously mean and conceited. She wears a lot of pink, sparkles and a big blonde wig for the show.
“It’s a fun role,” she says. “I can do a lot with it.”
Kayla Motley, who plays Gabriella Montez, has plenty of experience in musicals and says she enjoys the energy of the show. Motley, a 22-year-old from Manhattan, says the show is different than what she’s used to, though — she used to be a vocal performance major at DePaul University, which meant performing in operas with people much older than herself.
“I’m the oldest one in the play who doesn’t play an adult,” she says. “There’s a lot of talent, though.”
Markley, her counterpart, is six years younger than her. Evan Georgie, who plays the other male lead of Ryan Evans, also is 16 and will be a senior at Lawrence High School. Many of the other cast members are in junior high and high school, and Wade says she likes to help them with the dances and the singing. The cast, she says, is fun and low-key, something she enjoys because she hasn’t done a show since she graduated from high school.
“I’ve been missing it a lot,” she says.
Markley is excited for his first show and hoping that the time he’s put in learning his lines, the dances and the songs pay off.
“With all those people on the stage there’s lots of energy,” he says.