High School Musical: The Musical: The Series: The Review


“High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” season poster

I was fourteen when I was in a production of “High School Musical Jr” with a local community company. I got to perform iconic numbers such as “Breaking Free” and “We’re All in this Together,” and in retrospect that show was about as mediocre as you can get. My show may have been terrible, but “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” brought much more to the table.

With the announcement of the new Disney+ streaming service also came the announcement of the new original series “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.” Inspired by the critically acclaimed trilogy of the 2000s, the series follows the story of the fictional theatre students of East High, the school where the original movies were filmed. In the script of this show, the new theatre director, Miss Jenn (Kate Reinders), decides to put on a production of “High School Musical” as the fall show. From auditions to final bows, the show spotlights ensemble member turned lead Nini (Olivia Rodrigo), skater boy turned theatre kid Ricky (Joshua Bassett), cool new girl Gina (Sofia Wylie), good intentions but bad methods EJ (Matt Cornett), and the relationships they build with their fellow cast members. 

The show nailed the arguably most important part of theatre: the familial aspect. One of the key components to the success of any theatre production is the relationships built between cast members. If the chemistry doesn’t exist off stage, it won’t transfer on stage, especially between high school students. Despite the short ten episode season, the production team and cast of the series managed to create beautiful dynamics among the characters starting at the beginning of the season. 

The second episode, entitled “The Read-Through,” includes the cast meeting together for the first time to read through the show before diving into intense rehearsals. Before cracking open their scripts, Miss Jenn directs everyone to hold hands and feel each other’s energy. From there, the chemistry continues to blossom. In the sixth episode, “What Team,” the cast rallies together to defend Miss Jenn from possible termination. Episode seven, “Thanksgiving,” includes a cast get-together in which the characters bond over games and Coca-Cola. 

All of this bonding continues to grow up to and through the two part season finale, in which the students prepare for and perform opening night of the show. The electricity between the characters practically explodes through the screen. Whether it’s the crazed moments before the curtain rises or the solemnity of rituals, this episode is nothing short of extraordinary.

Watching this episode, and the series as a whole, I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic. As a theatre kid, nothing is more rewarding than the feeling of family within a cast. The actual shows may go horribly wrong, just as it did in the series, but none of it matters if your cast has your back.  That’s exactly what happened within this series. At the beginning of the season, the cast members each had their own separate energies, but by the finale they were one cohesive entity. They shared one wavelength, they were one family, and witnessing that growth brought me back to the memories of my favorite productions. 

As an actor myself, I know that while watching a movie, show, musical, or any form of entertainment, you want the audience to be so engrossed in the performance that they can forget about their real world problems. So although the friendships that are made in the cast feel real, the accuracy (or lack thereof)  behind the production of the musical breaks the illusion of reality.

Some small inaccuracies include the fact that only one public show was put on, the entire ensemble was made of professional dancers, and the actors broke the fourth wall multiple times by playing their lines to the audience. However, one glaring problem consistently slapped me in the face during the whole season finale. The script that the cast followed for the musical is inconsistent with the actual script of the stage adaptation, “High School Musical: On Stage.” 

One moment that is strikingly obvious, is the performance of the iconic song “Stick to the Status Quo.” In the series, the arrangement of the song is different from the 2006 movie, however it is still as entertaining (if not more) than the original. That’s not the problem. The problem is just how different the song is from the stage adaption. The arrangement in this version includes a whole separate part that is sung under the final chorus, in which the “rebel ensemble,” as well as a few other principal characters, sing the exact opposite of the rest of the chorus, saying “follow your dreams and go” and “gotta live gotta grow.” This section is completely abandoned within the series, as well as certain sections occuring in a different order than the original score. 

It’s not uncommon for directors to make changes to the script once they’ve received the rights to a show, and I should know. One time, my director wrote and composed a whole new song to add as a prologue before the show, much like how Ashlyn (Julia Lester) wrote a power ballad for Ms. Darbus in the series. That didn’t shock me. However, I was stunned when I saw lines were being moved from one scene to another and songs were completely rearranged in a different order. It feels as if the writers of the series didn’t even care to look at the “On Stage” script, and wrote their own stage adaptation.

Due to the drastic changes and complete disregard for the real stage adaptation, this broke the illusion of reality that the show had built up until this point. Episode one through eight kept me engaged, however seeing the cast put on an entirely new show only reminded me that this was a fictional world and nothing more. 

Although the production of the show was a disappointment for me, I would still say this series as a whole was thoroughly entertaining. From the humor to the emotion, this show was a rollercoaster with a satisfying payoff. It’s ten different coming of age stories blended into one to create a beautiful symphony of high school dramatics.