Disney's "High School Musical: The Musical: The Series" stars Mark St. Cyr as Mr. Mazarra, Dara Reneé as Kourtney, Larry Saperstein as Big Red, Joshua Bassett as Ricky, Frankie A. Rodriguez as Carlos, Olivia Rodrigo as Nini, Julia Lester as Ashlyn, Matt Cornett as E.J., Kate Reinders as Miss Jenn, and Sofia Wylie as Gina. (Image courtesy of Disney+ / Craig Sjodin)
California School of the Arts

‘High School Musical: The Musical: The Series’ winks to the past with a modern take

Thirteen years later, Disney returns with a modern take on the iconic movie series that followed many of us through our childhoods “High School Musical.” Except this time, it’s a docu-style, meta, and 10-episode scripted series filmed at the real-life East High.

The series begins with students Ricky (Joshua Bassett), Nini (Olivia Rodrigo), EJ (Matt Cornett), Gina (Sofia Wylie), and others auditioning for the school’s first-ever production of “High School Musical.” With Gina as a “Sharpay 2.0” and EJ coming in-between Nini and Ricky, it doesn’t take long to realize that the drama won’t only occur onstage.

“High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” was created by Tim Federle, an American novelist, theater librettist, and screenwriter. He is a Golden Globe Award and Academy Awards nominee for Best Animated Feature “Ferdinand.”

“Tone is what it’s all about. Why are we putting High School Musical in 2019? The answer is always going to be because [High School Musical] did their movies so brilliantly, and I think it is time for for the new generation to get a musical for them that winks to the past,” Federle said.

Tim Federle (Photo by Andy Hsiao)

Joshua Bassett began his rise to fame and popularity as his role of Aidan Peters on the Disney Channel show “Stuck in the Middle.” He has starred in over 30 musical productions, his first being High School Musical as an 8-year-old. 

“I play Ricky, a snarky sweetheart. He’s a skater who thinks he’s a little too cool for guitar, but he’s really not. He’ll do whatever it takes to make amends with [Nini],” Bassett said, along with a one of his favorite lines from his character: “‘For some of us, this is becoming a family.’ I think a lot of people will resonate with that.” 

Larry Saperstein joins the cast as Big Red, who falls into the world of musical theater to support his best friend, Ricky. His interest in theater began at the age of 3, performing in a production of “Working” with his father; today, he considers this film his most artistically rewarding project. 

“You get to see every character on this journey of finding the people that make them spark and make them excited to be themselves,” Saperstein said. “Even though all of us are completely different, it’s about finding the tribe in this family. I think people will really relate to that.”

Federle made sure to choose an age-accurate cast with 16-years-old Olivia Rodrigo, who plays a junior on the show. She is known for her work on “Bizaardvark,” “Grace Stirs Up Success,” and “Paved New World.” 

“One of the things I love so much about the show is the diversity. I think that kids watching this will really be able to find pieces of themselves in the characters, whether it be their experiences, how they look, or who they love…that makes what we do worth it,” Rodrigo said. 

Olivia Rodrigo plays Nini in “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.” (Image courtesy of Disney+)

Federle was inspired by “Waiting for Guffman” and “The Office,” finding actors and actresses that broke the mold to showcase a unique style of charm and roughness to reinvent the Disney brand for Disney+.

“When you’re a creator and you want to be open to authenticity, you pay attention to who walks through the door,” Federle said. “Olivia walked through the door and I realized [there] should be a mixed-race family, because that’s the truth. This expands to the whole cast. Olivia is the tip of the iceberg of a cast that is so diverse and authentic.”

It is scheduled to debut on ABC, Disney Channel, and Freeform on Nov. 8, before the launch of Disney+ on Nov. 12. Disney+ has also already confirmed a renewal of the series for a second season.