By Sayoni Ghosh, MA English Literature
Owen B Lewis’s jukebox musical, High School Never Ends The Musical makes a smashing return at the Alma Theatre, Bristol. The play follows a non-linear approach by smoothly transitioning between 1989 and 2008 in Texas and Ohio, where we follow the lives of two former high school sweethearts, Jaret and Emily, trying to navigate their lives in their mid-thirties.
Jaret (played by Harrison Waterhouse) is an attractive, but unsatisfied single man who works at his father’s garage but loves to sing in his band, which also includes his high school friends, Erik (Benedict Golde), Chris (Chris Harris-Beechey), and Gary (Freddie Holt). Emily (played by Emma Giles) is an independent working woman who is also disappointed with her career. We see a subtle charm in her present demeanour which indicates her colourful past as a cheerleader and aspiring singer in high school.
Both yearn to relive the carte blanche days of their teenage years and wish that they had done things differently. In 2008, when Facebook was still new, Jaret and Emily get to know about their high school reunion taking place. Jaret hopes that when he meets Emily, she is still single and Emily cannot hide her excitement from her friend Debbie (Becca Sharp) to rekindle her romance with Jaret.
The audience is whisked to the good old days of MTV and underage drinking where Jaret is a carefree boy and Emily is an optimistic young girl. Their supportive friend circles share their bubbly vibe which is a stark contrast to Jaret’s parents (Tim Nixon and Cait Davies) who remind him of his looming adulthood. With the progression of each scene, we hope that Emily and Jaret find their way back to each other past their imperfections and insecurities and rekindle the sweet love that was always there.
Fused with raging hormones, identity crisis, misunderstandings, and belongingness, the flashback of 1989 communicates a feeling of nostalgia with the typical drama, cliques and crushes.
Owen B Lewis’s writing leaves us craving for more escapism in the form of comic and emotional characters who are meandering through fuzzy and angsty adolescence. It is also an evident love letter to Bowling for Soup, an American rock band, whose hit singles like, ‘High School Never Ends,’ ‘Girl All the Bad Guys Want’, ‘The Bitch Song’, and ‘I’m Gay’ are effortlessly embroidered in the storyline.
It was a perfect sing-along evening for viewers who got a refreshing take of southern American Gen X. There was enthusiastic applause at the end of every musical performance. The music, along with the uplifting choreography by Emma Giles and Clare Brice, was a source of everyone’s foot-tapping.
Harrison Waterhouse and Emma Giles as the main leads ignited chemistry and radiated youthful innocence. Chris Harris Beechey, Benedict Golde, and Freddie Holt, who played Jaret’s rebellious ride or die, were charismatic on stage. Becca Sharp, Jacob Mellers and Megan Wright, who played Emily’s clique, had some of the best vocal performances. A special mention to Jacob for capturing the essence of what it is like for a queer youngster to find his feet in a perplexing world. Cait Davies as Fiona Thompson, Jaret’s mother, served as a calming shelter to Jaret’s topsy-turvy experiences and Tim Nixon as Dave Thompson, Jaret’s father, was memorable as well. It was an overall entertaining ensemble of passionate thespians.
I appreciated Owen B Lewis and George Harold Millman’s artful storytelling and direction with the help of which we got a cheesy, romantic, and wholesome show. After leaving the Alma Tavern and Theatre in a buoyant mood, I eagerly anticipate what else Owen and George have in store for us after The Boy Who Made it Rain and High School Never Ends The Musical.
Featured Image: Courtesy of Manuel Musiu
Did you go to see High School Never Ends The Musical?