High School Musical was a big part of my high school experience.
I told this story briefly before when I blogged about the 25 best high school movies – but I’ll tell it again in a bit more detail.
The first High School Musical came out when I was in grade nine. I had chosen to go to a different high school than all my friends and while I had made new friends, my middle school friends were still my core friend group. On Friday’s I’d hang out with them, rotating between our houses where we would get pizza and watch movies. My house was a popular hang out because I was closest to Blockbuster but on this particular Friday in January 2006, we went to my friend Katharine’s because she had cable and wanted to watch this new movie that they had been promoting, something called High School Musical. Well obviously I loved it. It was incredible… or you know, I thought Zac Efron was. We must have watched that movie hundreds of times. I knew all the song lyrics, dance moves and dialogue.
The second came out while I was at summer camp between grade 10 and 11 – but camp culture is High School Musical culture. We got the soundtrack and knew all the songs before we were able to watch it when we got home.
The third movie – High School Musical: Senior Year – came out when I was in my senior year. It was a theatrical release so my best friend Beth and I went downtown and watched it the day it came out. These characters that I had spent the last three years watching were singing about things that I was also thinking about – leaving for university, prom, making final memories and graduation. I cried. It was the perfect movie for my little 2008 heart.
So when I heard they were making High School Musical: The Musical: The Series – I was very excited. But… I didn’t have Disney+ and had no interest in paying for it.
Cut to covid-19 and a need for entertainment. There has also been a lot of ‘We’re All In This Together’ talk – so… I got Disney+ last week and watched the whole series in a day.
I’m biased, but I loved it.
For those of you not in the know – High School Musical: the Musical is the musical based on the first movie. High School Musical: the Musical: The Series is about a group of kids putting on High School Musical: the Musical. The hook here is that the real East High (the high school where High School Musical was filmed) has never put on a production of High School Musical: the Musical. A true travesty.
This premise is fantastic on its own – but it’s filmed like The Office which makes it even better.
The show focuses on the drama between the kids cast in the production and their friends. At the centre of this is Nini Salazar-Roberts (Olivia Rodrigo). Nini starts the show in a relationship with Ricky Bowen (Joshua Bassett), but they quickly break up. She starts dating E. J. Caswell (Matt Cornett), a jock she connects with at musical theatre camp. Nini and E.J. (naturally) audition for the roles of Gabriela and Troy – but Ricky in an attempt to win Nini back, also auditions for Troy. When E.J. get’s the role of Chad and Ricky (naturally) gets the role of Troy opposite of Nini’s Gabriela – the drama starts. Meanwhile, we’ve got a wonderful crew of friends to push the plot along, give depth to the story, and fill out the chorus. Standouts include Big Red (Larry Saperstein) and Ashlyn Caswell (Julia Lester).
I know that High School Musical was objectively trash – it was cheesy, Zac Efron lip synced, and it was a low-budget made for TV movie. But High School Musical: the Musical: The Series is objectively really good.
It’s a smarter show. The writing on this show is phenomenal. Sure it has it’s cheesy moments (this is a Disney show after all), but there are quite a few moments of depth.
I’ll give you an example – I’m coming off a TV show where I lived with a group of teens. Most of my favourite moments with my teens was when we had life chats. During our chats they’d talk about their hopes and dreams, but also their insecurities and fears. There is a line that Ricky says to Big Red in the caf while he looks at Nini with E.J. that felt SO authentic – “The one person that I go to for advice, is currently on her honeymoon in the cafeteria.”
I’ve heard this so many times. Teen boys particularly find that the people that they talk to is their female friends and most often, their girlfriends. When they weren’t afraid of what their peers thought, It was the number one reason the boys told me they wanted a girlfriend – they just wanted that connection. Across the board – the dialogue felt more authentic and self aware than any of the OG HSMs.
The story arc of putting on a production is a classic – we’ve seen it in countless movies, but as a TV show it really gives it room to breath. We can tap in and out of rehearsals and into personal lives. The secondary characters that would normally just be filler, get a chance to shine.
Special shoutouts to Big Red – absolutely adored his storyline – and to Seb Matthew-Smith (Joe Serafini) who plays a male Sharpay. An inspired choice. Seb really shines in this scene:
Sure – not all storylines are perfect, but that’s ok. Drama teacher/HSM background dancer, Miss Jenn (Kate Reinders), has a better storyline than Ms. Darbus and her rivalry with STEM teacher, Mr. Benjamin Mazzara (Mark St. Cyr) is really fun.
For original fans of HSM, High School Musical: the Musical: The Series has a few good cameos – notedly a fantastic ‘beauty school dropout’ inspired musical number by Lucas Grabeel. (Also for you big broadway nerds out there – Kate Reinders played Glinda on broadway – so the reference to ‘I’m more of a Glinda’ is great).
All of music in High School Musical: the Musical: The Series is top notch. They brought back all your old favourites from HSM. Breaking Free, We’re All In This Together and Bop to The Top all bring the nostalgic sounds to the project but it’s the new songs written specifically for HSMTMTS that really make this series special. “I Think I Kinda, You Know” and “Wondering” are fantastic.
But I’m most impressed by Just for a Moment and All I Want. All I Want was solely written by Olivia Rodrigo aka Nini, and Just for a Moment she co-wrote. Incredible.
Like let’s take a moment here to acknowledge how much more talented the HSMTMTS cast is over the HSM cast. I never liked Vanessa Hudgens – but I’m obsessed with Olivia Rodrigo. She’s a much better lead to take this franchise to the next generation. Plus Just for a Moment was co-written by Joshua Bassett while they had Zac Efron lip sync in movie 1. MILES AHEAD folks. If this is their ‘first’ major project – I cannot wait to see where Rodrigo and Bassett’s careers go.
In a lot of ways this would be the perfect ‘limited series’ – they put on High School Musical: The Musical and now it’s over. Half of the novelty is High School Musical nostalgia. However, I think for a lot of the kids don’t have this same level of HSM nostalgia. So it makes sense that Disney would want to keep this new magic going with a 2nd season. The characters and story in this show are their own entity and can carry this without HSM. Disney announced S2 is going to focus on East High putting on Beauty and the Beast with all the core cast returning.
As an HSM fan, obviously you would think that I’d rather them do High School Musical 2: the Musical: The Series – but I actually think HSMTMTS can stand on its own and I’ll watch S2 for its own magic… and maybe just to see if they find a way to get Zac Efron in for a cameo.