If you ever find yourself missing the musicality of High School Musical and the irreverent, awkward, fourth-wall breaking humor of Glee, Disney+ has got a new show for you. At the 2019 D23 Expo, Disney announced that High School Musical is getting a reboot, of sorts. The amusingly titled High School Musical: The Musical: The Series is a meta wink at the original franchise, introducing a world where the movies themselves exist as a pop culture mainstay. With an all new cast and new renditions of the old High School Musical numbers, the series pays homage to the originals while striking out all on its own.
“I think the new generation deserves new characters … it’s really an ensemble comedy,” creator and executive producer Tim Federle explained to emcee and former High School Musical star Corbin Bleu at an exclusive D23 Expo screening event.
— Disney+ (@disneyplus) August 24, 2019
According to Disney, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series picks up 13 years after the original movie premiered, and takes place at the real-life school that was the location for the films. The show follows a group of theater kids as they navigate drama both on and off the stage while preparing to do the school’s first-ever production of, you guessed it, High School Musical. Headlining the show are juniors Ricky (Joshua Bassett) and Nini (Olivia Rodrigo). Shy Nini, the show’s Gabriella analogue, has just returned from summer camp with a new-found confidence and a new sporty boyfriend, E.J. (Matt Cornett). Lovesick and nerdy Ricky, meanwhile, is determined to win Nini over by auditioning to star opposite her as Troy in the play.
Audiences at D23 got an early look at the first episode of the series. The humor in the show is like a love child between Modern Family and The Office, featuring a ton of humorous asides and “interviews” with an unseen cameraman. The show has Gen Z as its target audience, but the comedy is surprisingly clever, and will likely appeal to millennials as well. (Yes, even those who lampooned the originals!) When Ricky decides to try out for the musical to grab Nini’s attention, for example, his friend asks if he even knows what High School Musical is about. “Yeah, it’s Zac Efron dancing with a basketball,” Ricky says. Another scene features Nini snapping at Ricky that he doesn’t even like musicals, and that they “got kicked out of The Greatest Showman because you kept yelling ‘that’s not realistic’ at the screen.”
Like Modern Family, the show also features a pretty diverse cast, and will likely explore the lives of each of the kids. You get a brief glimpse into Nini’s family life in the first episode, who, like Gabriella’s, are also Filipino American. Frankie A. Rodriguez, who plays Carlos, the kid helping with casting for play, will also play an openly gay character.
And like Glee, there’s a ridiculously comedic music teacher in the form of Kate Reinders’ Miss Jean, who seems to be trying to reclaim her youth by producing a musical she’d secretly love to be in herself.
It’s not all just laughs though, as a big part of the show is celebrating friendship and found family. “Finding your tribe is a big part of this series,” Rodrigo told the audience.
Rodriguez agreed, saying the friendships in the show are just as real as the ones they made in real life. “I always did feel different in high school…I was the only theater nerd. To find all these people…we’re weird and quirky, and that’s what makes it special.”
Importantly, the show doesn’t feel like a glamorous CW channel, let’s hire 30-year-olds-to-play-teens, show. These are actual teens playing teens, and dealing with relevant Gen Z issues. “I love how accurately this series portrays high school life and high school theater,” said Julia Lester, who plays a character who is heavily inspired by Sara Bareilles.
Of course no panel about High School Musical could end without mentioning the inevitable drama and shipping wars of the show. The cast themselves are divided on whether they’re #TeamEJ or #TeamRicky for Nini. (For the record, E.J.’s actor Matt Cornett is himself #TeamRicky.) Shipping may not be your cup of tea, but it was an integral part of the original High School Musical and later Glee fandoms, so those looking for more of that will certainly find it in this new series.
“The love triangles become love squares…so stick with it because what will happen will surprise you,” said Federle joked.
All in all it looks like a surprisingly fun romp, full of genuinely good musical numbers and just the right amount of meta humor to appeal to younger and older generations. High School Musical: The Musical: The Series will immediately available to stream when the Disney+ service drops on November 12.