Tuesday, February 06, 2007

We're All In This Together

I don’t have any sons. Therefore, watching Sunday afternoon football will never be considered a “bonding experience” in my house.
Which is why, last Sunday, as my beloved Chicago Bears put the hurt on the New Orleans Saints and earned a long overdue trip to the Super Bowl, my favorite football recliner was empty. The high definition flat screen was dark. The chips and salsa remained in the cupboard.
For I was 100 miles away, in a Milwaukee basketball arena with my daughters, watching the modern day equivalent of The Beatles.
Yes, HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL was in town!
If you don’t have children under 13, chances are you have never heard of High School Musical. If your cable package doesn’t include The Disney Channel, you’re also, most likely, in the dark. But my girls are nine and four, which means the Disney Channel would remain on even if nuclear missiles were headed towards my subdivision.
Girls, turn on CNN so we can see if we need to take shelter.
No way Dad. Hannah Montana just started.
High School Musical – The Movie debuted on the Disney Channel in January 2006. It’s a simple story: high school jock meets brainy girl and both discover they have a passion for singing. They audition for a high school musical in spite of pressure from their friends – athletes and academics – who try and prevent it from happening. Both groups are convinced that singing is for losers, which is puzzling because everybody in this high school sings and dances at various points during the movie.
Eventually they all learn lessons about being oneself, not bowing to peer pressure and pursuing dreams. It’s kind of like Grease except nobody dresses up like a slut at the end in order to get the guy. Are you listening, Olivia Newton-John?
Once Disney Channel executives realized they had a big hit on their hands, High School Musical began running, as far as I can tell, on a continuous loop. Every once in awhile, the producers would throw some tricks into the movie so audiences thought they were watching something different. Monday was High School Musical with dance instructions, Tuesday we were treated to “pop up” High School Musical, on Wednesday, gather around for High School Musical with Spanish subtitles and so on and so on. I’m waiting for High School Musical with the alternate ending, where the jock misses the big shot at the buzzer, breaks his ankle while auditioning for the musical and then announces he is gay.
A few months later, Disney executives realized they had a HUGE hit on their hands. And, because they work at Disney, it became necessary to exploit the movie even further. I can’t understand why Disney seems so intent on running everything into the ground. The other day I saw a billboard announcing the pending release of…Cinderella III. That’s right, Disney has made not one, but two Cinderella sequels. The last time I saw Cinderella, she was dancing happily ever after with the prince. What’s in the other two movies? An affair? A bitter custody battle? I guess I’ll have to rent the DVDs.
So after releasing the High School Musical board game, the High School Musical clothing line and announcing that a script for High School Musical 2 was in the works, Disney executives decided they all needed winter homes in Aspen. Lo and behold, they created HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL” THE CONCERT! COMING TO YOUR HOMETOWN!!!
That would have been okay except Milwaukee is not my hometown. The tickets in my hometown, Chicago, sold out in – are your ready? – THREE MINUTES! I spent three minutes getting dressed this morning. In that time, Disney sold 15,000 tickets.
Luckily my wife’s Internet fingers were fast enough to get three tickets in Milwaukee. Unfortunately, they were for the same day that she would be on a plane, returning from a Vegas trip with her girlfriends. Hence, the chaperoning duties fell upon me.
“But the Bears are playing,” I pleaded.
“That’s why we have Tivo,” was the response.
Damn Tivo.
So on a snowy afternoon, I arrived with my daughters in tow, an hour before showtime. As we sloshed our way to the Bradley Center, I noticed that I was the only male in the surrounding area. Carloads of little girls, usually with one or two moms in tow, descended on the arena. “At least the traffic leaving the arena won’t be bad,” I thought. I made this prediction based on the fact that more than three quarters of the audience could not legally drive.
Once inside we saw a crowd at least eight deep clustered around a table. Screaming girls were buying T-shirts adorned with the High School Musical logo or plastered with images of the show’s stars. They were Disney priced at $35. I opted to treat my girls to a show program. For $20 I now know that Ashley Tisdale DOESN’T LIKE MAYONNAISE and Vanessa Hudgens is a SELF PROCLAIMED SHOPAHOLIC and Lucas Grabeel LIKES SMILES AND DISLIKES FROWNS.
As the magic hour of 4 p.m. inched closer, the mood resembled Times Square five minutes before New Year’s Eve. The kids and I passed the time by playing a game that I invented called “Count the Dad.” In a sports arena that held 20,000 people, we eventually reached double digits. But it took a lot of looking. Binoculars helped.
I stole a glance at my Blackberry. Bears up nine zip after one quarter.
“What’s the score,” a male voice behind me said. I turned to see a Dad that I neglected to count. I began relaying the information but my voice was drowned out as the lights went out and the loudest, most ear-splitting scream I had heard in my 44 years on earth shook the rafters. The stage lights went up, canned music began and out walked…JORDAN PRUETT.
“Who.?” I asked my nine year old.
“She’s from The Disney Channel,” my daughter replied.
Miss Pruett, the opening act for High School Musical, began her set with the question, “Do we have any teenagers out there?” Half of the arena stood up and screamed.
“Do we have anybody who wants to be a teenager?” was her follow up question. The other half stood and screamed. I started to stand up and scream but felt a twinge in my back and, wisely, sat back down.
Jordan Pruett sang five songs, reminding audience members in between each song that she could be seen regularly on, you guessed it, The Disney Channel. A 20-minute intermission followed, which was more than enough time for the audience to buy Jordan Pruett T-shirts.
Thirty minutes later, the main event began. If possible, the audience screamed louder as a massive video screen was unfurled and began showing scenes from the movie. I marveled at the screen’s clarity and couldn’t help wondering how awesome the Bears game would look on it. Instead, the images switched to the event at hand and focused on the movie’s six stars, who ascended from a trap door in a cloud of smoke.
The opening number was something about “sticking with the stuff you know.” I holstered my Blackberry and prayed that Tivo was working. But Disney, in spite of its expertise at sucking your wallet dry, has a way of making you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I looked at my daughters. My youngest was singing along and even my normally reserved oldest daughter clapped her hands to the beat. Their energy never waned, even when three of the performers sang material from their “upcoming solo albums” and reminded listeners that their videos could also be seen on THE DISNEY CHANNEL. Miss Pruett was all but forgotten.
Thirty minutes into the performance my four year old had to take a potty break. I hustled her to the bathroom…right in front of a bank of televisions showing the Bears game.
“Daddy will be right here,” I instructed her. “No messing around in there.”
When she returned, I heard the opening notes of “Get Your Head in the Game” coming from the stage. Meanwhile, the Bears were driving. What’s a Dad to do?
“Come on, we have to get back to our seats. Let’s hurry,” I told her. And we hustled back, determined not to miss the entire song. The Bears could wait. This moment could not.
I spent the rest of the concert grinning. I grinned when the cameras panned the audience and showed hundreds of little girls screaming their little heads off. I grinned, and then gently scolded myself, when Vanessa Hudgens shook her hips, a motion that was beautifully magnified on the humongous video screen. By the time the cast began singing the hopelessly addictive final song, “We’re All In This Together,” I was singing along. Then again, it’s IMPOSSIBLE not to like that song. The cast of High School Musical could walk onstage at the Met in New York, interrupt a performance of La Boehme and begin singing that song. By the end, eighty-year-old billionaire society types would be singing along.
As we exited the arena, my nine year old hugged me and said, “thank you for taking us.”
No, thank you for letting me be a part of it.

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