It has been nearly 13 years since the original “High School Musical” movies took the world by storm and became one of the biggest film franchises. While those who loved the movies as kids and teens are now adults, they most likely still have the melodies of “Stick to the Status Quo” or “We’re All In This Together” etched into their brains. Disney knew that it was time for a revamp and announced that a new series would be available as part of the much anticipated Disney+ streaming service released in November.
For the past 10 weeks, “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” completely shocked audiences with its catchy original songs, talented cast and upbeat dance numbers. At first glance, many presumed the show would be just another teen drama or a remake of the original films. While the plot includes some budding romance and fierce theatre rivalry, the show is unlike any other teen series on television. It shares the same mockumentary format as “The Office,” giving the audience each character’s inner thoughts and perspectives through interviews, while the musical aspects are easily comparable to the show “Glee.” HSMTMTS takes place at the same school the original movies were filmed at, but is not nearly set in the same world as Troy and Gabriella.
The show follows a group of East High drama students at the beginning of the school year. After a summer break in their relationship, Ricky (Joshua Bassett) comes to school to find that Nini (Olivia Rodrigo) has come back from theatre camp with a new hotshot boyfriend E.J. (Matt Cornett). The school’s new drama teacher, Miss Jenn (Katie Reinders), is shocked that East High has never staged a production of High School Musical and is determined to make it happen. In an effort to win Nini back, Ricky auditions for the musical and manages to impress Miss Jenn enough to win the starring role of Troy. Nini successfully lands the role of Gabriella, E.J. gets Chad and transfer student Gina (Sophia Wylie) gets Taylor. As they rehearse, Nini, Ricky and the rest of the cast must learn to find ways to work together in order to put on a great show. While many things go wrong in the process of putting on a new production, Miss Jenn and her loyal student assistant Carlos (Frankie Rodriguez) remain enthusiastic and hopeful that a successful performance will occur from all the chaos.
The show, in many ways, is much more realistic than the original films. For starters, there are way more people of color in the series. Modern, progressive relationships are represented, too. Nini has two moms and Carlos and drama student Seb Matthew-Smith (Joe Serafini), who defies gender roles to play Sharpay, become a couple after going to the homecoming dance together. Beneath all of the comical surface level high school drama are harder realities that are handled with care, like Ricky’s parents’ divorce and Gina’s family struggles with constantly moving and being a single parent household.
The new soundtrack, while not as memorable as the original films, contains both upbeat, pop songs alongside some emotional ballads. “Born to be Brave,” sung by Courtney (Dara Reneé), acts as an anthem for Nini as she attempts to rebuild her confidence through ongoing boy troubles. “Wondering,” written by Ashlyn (Julia Lester), is a moving song about changing the past and whether or not it would have any effect on the present. One of the biggest hits on the show, “All I Want,” was written by Rodigo herself and professes Nini’s longing to find the right guy after not feeling confident about her past relationships. While some of the original songs are a bit far-fetched, others contain powerful lyrics and catchy tunes that could easily be heard on our modern-day radios.
Actual teenagers play the East High drama students, which adds much depth to the acting qualities of each cast member by giving them something to relate to. Rodrigo, who is just sixteen years old, explains that “Nini is just a teenager who is growing up and trying to find her place in the world, and so am I.” Each leading character has the perfect amount of emotional and comical aspects needed in regards to the scene. Some of the secondary characters, however, took a while to put a name and personality to. Ricky’s best friend Big Red (Larry Saperstein) did not have much of a storyline and rather acted as a sidekick to his troubled friend throughout the entire season. Spectators predict that Big Red, amongst others, will grow to be more prominent characters in following seasons.
So, should you “get your head in the game” and watch the series? Absolutely! What people thought would be a trainwreck is actually a show that’s both nostalgic and relevant to a new generation. This show was a great way to pay tribute to the “High School Musical” franchise while also creating a completely different story. Disney+ confirmed Season 2 will be released in 2020 and it will include the same cast as well as some new faces.
By: Jacqui Pash