Back to School

Top left and center, Tom Smart for The New York Times; top right, Fred Prouser/Reuters; above left, Fred Hayes/Disney Channel; above center, Bryan Bedder/Getty Images; Mike Cassese/Reuters

By Jacques Steinberg
The New York Times
Published: March 11, 2007

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Tom Smart for The New York Times
Kenny Ortega directing Lucas Grabeel and Ashley Tisdale during a rehearsal for “High School Musical 2” at the Entrada at Snow Canyon resort in St. George, Utah.

LATE last month the cast of the Disney Channel blockbuster “High School Musical” — among the most-watched TV movies ever created for children and teenagers, and the most lucrative — reunited here in southwest Utah at a golf resort surrounded by spectacular red sandstone cliffs.

They had come to begin rehearsing for “High School Musical 2,” a sequel set at a country club during summer vacation and scheduled to have its premiere on the channel in August.

In conversations behind the locked front gate of the Entrada at Snow Canyon resort, which is serving as the movie’s principal set, everyone involved acknowledged that the extraordinary popularity of the first movie — it has earned a profit of $100 million, primarily through DVD and CD sales — had raised huge expectations for the sequel.

“It’s like ‘High School Musical’ on crack,” said Lucas Grabeel, 22, who plays Ryan, one of the six lead characters (the one who sometimes wears a newsboy cap at a jaunty angle). “Every dance move is going to be popped harder. It’s got to be brighter and more extravagant and bigger than the last one.”

But before that can happen, Mr. Grabeel and his five main co-stars said, they have had to find a way to turn back the clock, not just in terms of their ages (though they range from 18 to 26 in real life, all are playing 16- and 17-year-olds) but also to evoke a period when their own innocence mirrored that portrayed on screen.

In the aftermath of the original movie, which had its premiere in January 2006, all of the lead players became stars in their own right. Some starred in other Disney Channel movies (Mr. Grabeel, Corbin Bleu) or on prime-time series (Monique Coleman, a contestant on “Dancing With the Stars” on ABC). Others released chart-climbing solo albums (Ashley Tisdale, Vanessa Hudgens and soon, it is expected, Mr. Bleu). And Zac Efron, who plays the heartthrob Troy, even graduated to a feature film, “Hairspray” with John Travolta, due later this year.

That the cast members, most of whom were little known before “High School Musical,” have shed some of their naďveté this time around is most evident in subtle ways. Though their families were ubiquitous on the set of the first movie, all but the youngest — Mr. Bleu, who just turned 18 — have left their parents at home this time. Ms. Coleman even arrived with a personal assistant (who happens to be Mr. Grabeel’s sister). And, like daughters whose flashes of rebelliousness have occasionally given their fathers fits, Ms. Tisdale and Ms. Hudgens tweaked Disney a few months back with the short hemlines of the costumes they wore for solo performances during a touring “High School Musical” concert.
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