Since the original High School Musical (2006), musical theatre boomed into the television mainstream. From the hit comedy sitcom Glee (Fox) aired from 2009 to 2015, to the gritty drama Rise (NBC) aired in 2017, the creator of High School Musical: The Musical Series, Tim Ferdle definitely took notes on what worked on both of these shows and what didn’t. Overall, the first season of High School Musical: The Musical The Series has bopped to the top with realistic situations while maintaining the musical charm. This is review will be filled with spoilers!
The season of this show starts with introducing Miss Jenn (Kate Reinders) who was in the original High School Musical as an extra. We see that she is a struggling millennial artist who’s recently hired as a drama teacher at the real East High. Miss Jenn plans out to put on a production of High School Musical as the fall play. She eventually gets in trouble with the school board after lying on her resume to get the drama teacher job at East High. The students at East High do a musical number (“Truth, Justice, and Songs in Our Key”) during the trial in protest.
Despite her flaws, Miss Jenn is a sympathetic character. She hides things from people she wants to impress, if only because she knows they won’t approve of her truths. For example, as romantic chemistry begins to develop between her and Ricky’s father, Mike (Alex Quijano), she hides the fact that she’s Ricky’s teacher who’s being trialled by the school board. Nevertheless, she’s aware of her tendency to hide in the face of vulnerability and still works towards being more honest. Eventually, she comes clean about lying on her resume to Carlos (Frankie A. Rodriguez), the choreographer, when she’s giving up on fighting back the school board.
Other major characters in the show are Nini (Olivia Rodrigo), Ricky (Joshua Bassett) and E.J. (Matt Cornett). Nini, wants to play the lead in the new school musical after having the reputation of the shy chorus girl throughout her theatre career. She is in a love triangle with Ricky and E.J. Ricky is Nini’s ex-boyfriend, who was dumped because of a miscommunicated reaction to an Instagram video of her singing an original love song. E.J., Nini’s current boyfriend, is the hot-shot senior boy who she met at theatre camp. Throughout the show, all of these characters have arcs that change what we think of teen television today. They have realistic situations that feel minimal in the show, yet causes an impact on the characters. The number of conflicts are short and straight to the point in the thirty minutes each episode has.
One character arc in the show that stood out is Ricky’s. When Ricky’s first introduced to the show the audience can tell that Nini was someone he trusted the most and now he’s lost her. After losing Nini, Ricky doesn’t have people who are close to him except for his best friend Big Red (Larry Saperstein). Ricky auditions last-minute to impress Nini with a cover of her song. An impressed Miss Jen casts him as Troy instead of E.J., because of her “instincts.” Ricky has never seen the High School Musical movie and doesn’t like musicals at all, which is similar to the co-protagonist Troy Bolton in the original HSM.
Through the show, Ricky finds out his parents are going to have a divorce. He thinks about quitting the musical because he is enraged over the divorce. and how he’s struggling to start something new. Gina (Sofia Wylie), the transfer student gives him a heart-to-heart about how he’s the new guy, but he got the lead role, which initially changes his mind. But as the tensions in his family grow, Ricky begins having doubts again. He realizes his parents want to keep him out of their conflict instead of telling him the full story of what’s going on. Eventually, the shock of the divorce’s impact becomes too much for him to deal with. During the episode “Act 1,” Ricky emotionally freezes in his performance when he sees his mother with another man. He steps out of his role and gives the Troy part to E.J. so that he can confront his mother off stage.
Adding an additional layer to Ricky’s character arc is his minor love triangle between Nini and Gina. Ricky and Nini are on and off all through the show, trying to keep their professional acting roles separate from their personal feelings for each other. It makes the audience frustrated knowing that Nini and Ricky are endgame despite a realistic budding romance between Gina and Ricky. Gina and Ricky also have smaller bonding moments throughout the show. She brings him cupcakes and a turkey hat in the “Thanksgiving” episode. Before Gina arrived, Ricky found out about his mother’s new boyfriend. Which surprised him and it made him feel emotionally stumped. Gina empathizes with him and tells him to push through the emotions. Ricky takes her hat and cupcakes to go to Ashlyn’s for their Thanksgiving party.
The musical charm in this show can often feel cheesy, but they’re crafted towards positively uplifting the teenage crowd. “Born to be Brave” is a musical number in the “Homecoming” episode where Ashlyn (Julia Lester) is comforting Carlos while waiting for his homecoming date, Seb (Joe Serafini), while Nini is being educated from Kourtney (Dara Renee) on taking pride in her independence. In spite of its target demographic, the message of “Born to be Brave” hits home for all ages, along with its amazing choreography. There are also musical numbers meant to pay homage to the original HSM movies, such as “Role of a Lifetime” with Miss Jenn and Lucas Grabeel, who played Ryan Evans. Grabeel mentors Miss Jenn, telling her that her teaching role inspires the students as artists.
The season finale is split into two episodes, as it takes place during the opening night of the show. Unlike Netflix which puts out whole seasons at once, Disney+ released episodes weekly, ensuring the audience wouldn’t see spoilers for the season’s ending. It gave a lot of room for the audience to scope out what would happen.
This show is only missing what will happen next in the series. Disney has confirmed that it will get a second season. Yet, we won’t know what it will be about. Will it be about the second HSM movie? Will it be a Spring Musical?
Overall, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series has proven that it doesn’t need covers of pop songs or teen pregnancy to make a spectacular teen musical show. Watch for the scene after the credits–it will knock your tap-dancing shoes off.
Edited by Colin Chao
Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a neuroscience nerd turned Creative Consultant and Executive Director of Off Colour!
You’ve probably seen her on TikTok or caught her work on Off Colour's many channels. From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.