Updated: Apr 12, 2020
A tale as old as time, The Walt Disney Company has been providing original entertainment for almost a century. In recent years, the company has just seemed to refresh older ideas with remakes such as Beauty & The Beast, Aladdin, and Dumbo. As of late, however, on November 12, 2019, an adaptation based on the 2006 Disney Channel Original Movie High School Musical was released on their streaming service, Disney+. Subscribers of this service enjoy a digital vault filled with TV shows, movies, and animated shorts the company has created since its start in 1928, as well as other pieces of content that Disney owns, including Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, Hulu, and National Geographic. Many have expressed their feelings about this; feeling mainly anger and offense, as they felt that this was replacing the original movies. Instead, it brought up an entirely new concept paying homage to the originals. And despite its long, boring title, the show is nothing short of refreshing; bringing laughs, tears, and intensified emotions that leave you wanting more. Before you know it, you’ve managed to binge all ten episodes of the first season in only five hours.
The adaptation, named High School Musical: The Musical: The Series takes place in Salt Lake City, Utah, in which the actual East High is located. The students are starting a new year, but for some, it opens up old wounds. Nini Salazar-Roberts, played by Olivia Rodrigo (best known for her work on Disney Channel projects such as Bizaardvark, Grace Stirs Up Success) starts the new year with her ex-boyfriend Ricky Bowen (Joshua Bassett, Stuck In The Middle, Dirty John) trying to win her back. They also find themselves able to try new things, as the students find out the new drama teacher, Ms. Jenn, wants to stage a production of High School Musical. When the former flames manage to snag the leading roles, which causes more drama than usual in the theatre room.
With this new idea, it is able to bring more to the table than the originals did, mainly due to the fact that showrunner and screenwriter, Tim Federle, was able to write deep, dimensioned characters and give them more in-depth stories, contrary to Kenny Ortega’s one-dimensional character writing in the films. The writing for the show is very relevant to today’s teen issues that many can find themselves relating to. These include things like normalizing LGBT+ relationships, coping with divorce, female empowerment, and more.
Another factor as to what makes this such a good show is the actors themselves. Most of these actors are triple threats in the area of acting, singing, and dancing, which is exceptional for their young ages, ranging from 15 to 21. The talent they radiate on-screen is astounding, as the actors are able to sing live in every scene that calls for it, and simple improvisations they perform that make it into the final cut. Federle, who knew how talented these kids were, even let them write songs for the show, like Nini’s breakup ballad in episode four, including it so that Olivia Rodrigo was able to channel her own words for her character. They also placed in a romantic arrangement between Nini and Ricky in episode eight, in which Joshua Bassett and Olivia Rodrigo managed to write with little to no context on their relationship. At one climactic point in the season finale, Bassett managed to throw his co-star Rodrigo off track at a sudden improvised an emotionally heavy monologue that caused her to tear up.
These actors do such a fantastic job of being able to bring their characters to life, like Larry Saperstein, who plays the kind, goofy best friend: Big Red Redonovich The Third. His quick improvisation during the first theatre rehearsal in which he reads the script monotonously, and when asked to read the punctuations, literally reads the punctuations on the page, had me on the floor laughing out loud. In another scene where he says, “Upstage means down, downstage means you go up, they say break a leg, and I say, ‘what did my leg ever do to you?’” is absolutely hilarious. By that alone, you can already confirm you are enamored with the charismatic, charming, and supportive boy, who was so supportive that he incorporated his character into a flash mob in order to save Ms. Jenn, another improvisation made by Larry after his co-star injured her knee.
On top of that, if you weren’t already in love with him, the moments he shares with Ashlyn Caswell are some of the purest things to ever grace this Earth. From the small compliments to the big gestures, including the huge basket filled with flowers he gifted to her on opening night, one can’t help but root for the budding romance between them. Speaking of Ashlyn, the actress, Julia Lester, also brings out so much to the show, as her chemistry with Larry is undeniable, being able to make you smile and giggle with glee as they steal every scene they share together. Lester is also able to maintain a spotlight on her as she sings live in her act two power ballad every time you hear it in the season, and it can honestly bring you to tears every single time.
As amazing as the actors are bringing the characters to life, some parts of their character arcs fell flat. Which mainly happens with their leads. Nini, after establishing her break with Ricky was, in fact, a break up, starts dating East High senior and popular guy EJ Caswell. But after taking her phone and finding out other nasty stuff about him, they break up. Nini declares that she will not let boys define her life, yet in the next episode, you can see she is clearly bothered when EJ is found hanging out with another girl. Though they try to make her character seem quirky and relatable, the writers put out the wrong message and instead made her seem self-centered and whiny. Not to mention, she is very unprofessional in her role as Gabriella, in different scenes, she ends up out-singing EJ as they have been fresh out of their breakup, and even covering up her body mic to have a conversation with EJ on stage instead of acting normally as Ricky has ended up stepping out. But just because that part of the writing was a bit iffy, it doesn’t mean everything else was. Other characters like EJ Caswell and Gina Porter were able to receive character development from their early manipulative storyline to become honest and sweet characters with a bigger story to tell.
Despite my light critiquing, the show is very much memorable with twists and turns at every corner. In fact, it’s so memorable that they decided to leave us viewers at a cliffhanger until later this Fall when season two plans to debut. But at least you can stream all ten episodes of the first season, sing along, and watch behind the scenes specials now on Disney+.