It really is the start of something new. It’s been thirteen years since the world was introduced to East High and eleven since Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, and the rest of the High School Musical franchise stars took their final bows as the characters that launched them into superstardom. Yet every day since then, HSM fans have fantasized, campaigned, and quite literally begged for another set of Wildcats to fall in love with. Today, Disney+ has delivered.
Very quickly, once you start to watch High School Musical: The Musical : The Series on the new streaming service, you realize that this is not the same East High you remember. HSMTMTS isn’t a continuation of the movies; it is a meta, mockumentary-style look at the DCOM phenomenon through the lives of relatable teens in high school today. Confused? You’re not alone.
“People just need to see it,” Kate Reinders shared on the set of our EXCLUSIVE shoot with the cast. “People are still like, ‘So, you play Ms. Darbus?’ ” The answer, in fact, is no. Kate plays Miss Jenn, the newly appointed drama teacher to the “real” East High School in Salt Lake City, Utah. Upon her arrival, she announces her plans to put on the school’s first live production of High School Musical and invites any student with interest to audition. That’s when we get to meet the bright, rising stars behind the highly-anticipated series.
Joshua Bassett plays Ricky, a junior who hopes to win back his ex by auditioning for the musical. Her name is Nini, played by Olivia Rodrigo, who fans will remember from the Disney series Bizaardvark. Nini is now dating school hunk EJ (Matt Cornett) and is friends with confident Kourtney (Dara Renee) and EJ’s cousin, Ashlyn (Julia Lester). Ricky looks for help in getting through the show from his best friend, Big Red (Larry Saperstein), show choreographer, Carlos (Frankie Rodriguez), and Nini’s rival, Gina (Sofia Wylie). And all of this goes down under the watchful eyes of Miss Jenn and the skeptical, musical-loathing Mr. Mazzara (Mark St. Cyr).
After watching the first episode, it’s clear this is not the cookie-cutter Disney series fans are used too. Students are cursing, Olivia’s character has two moms, and there’s a male student cast in the female role of Sharpay. “That actually was a huge draw for me, when I realized that [the creators] were going to those deeper places,” Josh explained. “We’re able to do a lot more and show more of why people are the way that they are.” In Josh’s case, the means tackling what it’s like for a teen caught in the middle of his parents’ divorce. “It’s really awesome the way they show how Ricky’s home life affects his relationships and his friendships,” Josh added. “You see him at rehearsal and he’s super stressed out. Then it pulls back the curtain and you see that at home, I don’t want to spoil anything, but his life is falling apart.”
But his story isn’t the only one told; every student in the production has the curtain pulled back on the difficulties they are facing at school or at home. “It’s really cool having a series you’re able to go more in depth with our characters and it’s not just, ‘Oh, the two leads,’” Dara explained. “ We have our own storylines, we have our own issues, and we have our own lives, which, I really appreciate, because not a lot of shows do that.” What’s more, the series in some instances reimagines certain characters from the original series that never quite got the chance to shine on their own. At first glance, Ashlyn is very reminiscent of Kelsi, the timid, piano-playing composer played by Olesya Rulin in the films. But Ashlyn plays a much bigger part in the arch of this series. “I think it’s really exciting that we are playing different characters,” Julia explained. “We get to create these new characters that are very 2019 and that you would find in your normal high school in this day and age.”
Still, some of the issues the new set of Wildcats face are tales as old as time. A love triangle emerges between Ricky, Nini, and EJ almost instantly, made only more complicated with Ricky and Nini are cast as Troy and Gabriella in the show. Of course, drama ensues when the exes are forced to work together, which lends itself for Matt to play a very jealous side to his seemingly sweet and lovable character. “The thing with EJ is he genuinely is a good person, but he does the wrong things for the right reasons,” Matt explained. “He’s very wholehearted, he’s very passionate, but whenever he goes about doing things to get the things that he loves, he kind of does things wrong and gets himself in trouble.”
But romance isn’t just blooming for the show’s leads. In the latest trailer for the first season, Frankie’s character Carlos seems to be falling for the aforementioned boy playing Sharpay in the production. Showcasing a romance between two young men would be a first for a Disney series, but for now, the storyline remains under wraps. “I’m so excited for people to see where it goes,” Frankie says, careful not to share any major spoilers. Still, he he can confirm one thing: “Unfortunately, it’s not Zac Efron. I’m trying to get over that, but you know, it’s just the first season. There’s still another season!”
And that’s the icing on the cake. Without even airing a single episode, Disney was so confident with the series, HSMTMTS was picked up for a second season. While a start date hasn’t been nailed down, the cast is already brainstorming what production they might put on in season 2, as the first season ends with opening night of High School Musical.
“I like the idea of Beauty and the Beast. I think that’d be cool,” Matt said, joking that he could play anyone from ‘Beauty’ to ‘a candlestick’. “I think that Into The Woods would be really fun,” Julia said. “There’s so many different characters that we could gender bend and do something fun with that show.” Dara chooses Pippin, while Frankie adds Footloose to the mix. Mark proposes Grease and Larry suggests Sound of Music. But Josh comes in with group’s favorite.
“I think East High is long overdue for a production of Shrek,” he suggests. “I just like the idea of one of us having to dress like an ogre.” “As long as it’s you, Josh,” Matt teases.
And what about taking the show on the road? The original High School Musical cast famously went on tour after the first movie. Is the gang interested in doing the same? “Yes!” Josh exclaimed, with resounding agreement from his friends and castmates. “ Everyone here’s the real deal. This cast, every single freaking one of them is insanely talented and can bring it to the table, and do bring it to the table every time we sing live in the show. So yes, let’s do it.”
“As long as they have a chaperone,” Kate sneaks in.
‘High School Musical: The Musical: The Series’ is streaming on Disney+ now. Read more from our interview in the gallery above.