BEVERLY - OK, let's see. "High School Musical 2" is the stage adaptation of a televised sequel to a television show, the third-installment movie sequel to which has just come out on the big screen. And it's an obvious choice for a holiday show because . . .?
Well, perhaps because "High School Musical," the stage adaptation of the original show, proved to be an unprecedented cash cow for North Shore Music Theatre in the summer of 2007. But North Shore already had a pretty darn healthy cash cow in the form of "A Christmas Carol," and that show seems just a tad more seasonally appropriate than a musical about kids with summer jobs at an Albuquerque country club. It also, for all its familiarity, still feels fresher and more interesting than what has ended up onstage in its place.
It's not that "High School Musical 2" is harmful, particularly. The kids are as wholesome and fresh-scrubbed as ever, the tunes innocuous, the plot devoid of anything potentially worrisome to parental sensibilities. But while you could argue that the first installment of this franchise at least introduced kids to the concept of live theater with a solidly built and mildly engaging show, "HSM 2" has all the weaknesses of a TV sequel and none of the strengths of a decent stage show.
Because it's a sequel, the show has to pick up all the neatly tied plot strands from the end of the first show, then painstakingly untie them, tangle them, and tie them back up again. So mean girl Sharpay, who got nice at the end of "HSM 1," turns mean again, then nice - oh, sorry, did I spoil it? - and young lovers Gabriella and Troy, blissfully entwined, must find some pretext to break up before rediscovering bliss.
This all plays out just as schematically as it sounds, but without the first show's minor compensations of catchy songs and lively dance numbers to provide some distraction. Yes, the principal actors have returned to reanimate their parts, and they do so competently; yes, there's still singing and dancing. But none of it really goes anywhere. And director/choreographer Barry Ivan, who usually handles North Shore's tricky in-the-round stage with aplomb, this time frequently leaves clumps of kids standing stock still around the edges of the stage, blocking the view of the action in the middle.
"High School Musical" was lively and sweet, if hardly brilliant. "High School Musical 2" feels warmed-over and flat. Even at this most wonderful time of the year, apparently, the law of diminishing returns remains in force.
Louise Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.