Go Wildcats!

Class is back in session for Silver Mist Productions.

First assignment? Get the Canadian premiere of High School Musical 2 ready for June.

Still riding the Disney train that has served them well with productions of Aladdin, Jr. and Beauty and the Beast, the Niagara Falls theatre company will bank on Troy, Gabriella and the rest of the Wildcats clan.

Only this time, it's not an animated movie being adapted.

With young stars like Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens, the High School Musical series is one of Disney's biggest non-animated franchises.

That makes casting crucial, says Silver Mist co-owner Linus Hand.

"They have to look and sound great," he says. "And they have to look like high school kids.

"Kids identify with these characters ... and they're going in expecting to see that."

The 15 main roles will be filled by professional actors, but six minor parts will go to local high school students. The catch, says Hand, is they can only audition "on the recommendation of their drama teacher."

Directed by Jill Harland, the show runs at the Niagara Centre for the Arts from June 1 to 20. A marketing blitz will target "out-of-city schools," says Hand.

It's a surprise addition to the Silver Mist schedule, but one Hand couldn't resist. Rehearsals for Beauty and the Beast were underway in November when he saw the rights for High School Musical 2 were suddenly available.

At the time, he was looking for the next Disney classic to stage the following winter, "but High School Musical made us do an about face."

A theatrical version of the original High School Musical was a hit at Toronto's Princess of Wales Theatre in 2007, but the sequel has yet to be staged in Canada.

It's not to be confused with the High School Musical movies: Part 3 hit theatres last year.

And don't forget the TV show. And CDs. And books. And DVDs. Next to "Hannah Montana," it may be Disney's biggest cash cow of the decade.

Not just anyone gets the rights. Disney is highly protective of its properties, and scrutinizes each and every company that stages them. For Silver Mist's productions of Aladdin, Jr. and Beauty and the Beast, Disney sent representatives to judge both the show and venue. Both passed, allowing the green light for High School Musical 2.

"Getting the rights for it is huge," says Hand.

Two months ago, Silver Mist took the next step by offering two productions at once: Seussical at the Sheraton on the Falls Theatre, and a revival of Beauty and the Beast at the Niagara Centre for the Arts. Combined, they sold about 45,000 tickets, compared to 32,000 in 2007 for Beauty and the Beast alone.

Both shows would likely do well again this year, says Hand, but it was time to tackle something new.

"You don't want to turn into a one-trick pony. There are other shows out there.

"What Beauty and the Beast led to was getting High School Musical 2."

By John Law, Niagara Falls Review

Go Wildcats!