Being tasked with a reimagining of High School Musical is no small feat. For many, it’d be a nerve-racking experience — after all, the original three-movie franchise left quite the impact — but Joshua Bassett, Olivia Rodrigo and Sofia Wylie, three of the stars of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, got their heads in the game.
The series, which is part of the long-awaited launch of Disney’s brand new streaming platform Disney+, has been garnering attention since it was first announced in 2017. Led by Tim Federle, the extremely meta series is equal parts musical, mockumentary, and TV show. Over 10-episodes, we follow a fictional group of students at the real-life East High as they prepare a theatrical rendition of the iconic DCOM, 15 years after Troy, Gabriella, and company first broke free in the school.
In the series, Joshua plays Ricky, who he says is “a snarky sweetheart who is afraid of commitment.” Ricky lands the role of Troy Bolton in the play, which is actually a ploy to get back together with his ex-girlfriend, Nini. Olivia plays Nini, who she calls the underdog “theater nerd” who “is working on finding herself and finding her voice amidst being cast in HSM and boy drama and just normal teenage things.” Sofia, meanwhile, plays the high-achieving antagonist Gina, East High’s new transfer student, who has echoes of Sharpay's ambition.
“Unlike most transfer students though, she's not shy,” Sofia tells Teen Vogue about her character. “She's not nervous to be a part of this new high school. She is there and ready to go off. But she's not just that stereotypical mean girl. She has a lot of vulnerability.” As Olivia gushes about her co-star and real-life friend, “People would ask me like what the hardest part about the filming was, and I would always say pretending that Sofia Wylie is mean at all because she's literally the nicest person that existed.”
HSM: TM: TS is not a remake nor is it a reboot nor a sequel— it’s, well, the start of something new. But there’s a certain pressure that comes with continuing a beloved franchise, and the trio knows they have some big shoes to fill. “When I first auditioned I was a little reluctant with the idea of a remake,” Joshua admits. Olivia adds, “When you’re doing a reimagining, you obviously want to do something justice, especially when it has so much significance to an entire generation of people. Continuing such an iconic franchise can be a little daunting."
However, they all agree the initial apprehension disappeared once they got their scripts. Getting Corbin Bleu and Kenny Ortega’s official seal of approval at the D23 Expo, as Olivia recounts, also helped beat the nerves.
HSM: TM: TS continues East High’s legacy, but don’t expect to see Ms. Darbus pop up in the practice room or Coach Bolton training the basketball team. In fact, the series won’t feature any Wildcats at all. Instead, make way for the East High Leopards. "Something wonderful about the series is that we're not trying to at all recreate anything. There's just absolutely no way that we could ever possibly capture the lightning in a bottle that was HSM 1, 2 and 3,” Olivia admits.
“We pay homage and we have references to the original movie but it's so different,” Sofia adds. “We're able to create a show that is so much a part of my childhood but it's also going to be a part of my adulthood, and it's also going to be the way for a new generation too.”
Set to premiere on ABC, Freeform and Disney Channel on Nov. 8 before its official release on Disney+, the stars believe the show offers something for everyone. “The fact that we’ll air on these platforms with such different demographics just goes to show how versatile our show really is and it's going to be,” Sofia points out. For the original fans, there’ll be easter eggs galore while newbies to the franchise will be introduced to East High’s next generation.
“The cool thing about our show is that a five-year-old will fall in love with it and a ninety five-year-old would fall in love with it. I believe the OG fans are going to find something to love about it and brand new fans are gonna fall in love with it — that's a pretty unique thing that [we] somehow got right,” Joshua says. “My whole family loved it," Sofia adds. "And I want to be able to be a part of projects that my whole family can watch and binge and just be as excited about as any other show that we all love."
Set (and shot) in Salt Lake City’s IRL high school where the original movie was recorded in 2006, the self-aware series combines The Office-style confessionals with teenage drama and musical theater aplenty. On top of new renditions of the classic HSM bops — like “Breaking Free,” “We’re All In This Together,” and “Stick to the Status Quo” — the series will also feature completely original songs that both Joshua and Olivia had a hand in writing.
“Olivia and I got to write from our perspectives and our characters' perspectives, which is pretty unique because typically it's just some old man trying to guess what teenagers are feeling and trying to make it catchy,” Joshua says. “It’s absolutely insane to get to contribute to such a large franchise and something which is so important to all of us. [The new songs] are definitely one of my favorite parts about the series,” Olivia adds. Sofia jokes, "[These two] are going to be bigger than Beyoncé."
The cast wrapped the first season back in July and, prior to any official release, the series has already been renewed for a second season — a testament to the show’s authenticity and the actors’ strong bond. “When a show is really honest in its interpretation of characters, that transcends generations,” Olivia says. “A lot of the obstacles that Nini is trying to overcome in the [show] I was actually trying to overcome while I was just being Olivia in real life, in Salt Lake City filming. I was on a phone call with one of my friends from California talking about boys and she's like, ‘Oh, you never used to be this insecure before you started hanging out with boys so much,’ and that was literally a line that was in the script the next day. It just goes to show how relatable and honest the show really is.”
As the release date draws closer, the trio can’t hold in their excitement, but the doubts of the beginning also loom. “It's our baby and it's a little bit difficult to pass it off to the world, but I already know Tim Federle has many things in store for season two and so I just can't wait. I can safely say I cried more times on set than I have in the last like five or so years. This show’s got that magic that can't necessarily be described,” Joshua says.
“I'm really excited for audiences to see the bond that we have as a cast because I think it really shows through," Olivia says. "But I'm also excited for people to see a piece of themselves in the characters. Our writers did an amazing job creating a really diverse group of kids [so] that everyone, even people who are marginalized or somewhat underrepresented, can see themselves on-screen ... Sometimes when something is meant to be, you just feel really good about it.”
After a preview on ABC, Freeform, and Disney Channel on November 8 at 8 p.m. ET, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series will premiere on Disney+ on November 12.
Stream High School Musical: The Series on Disney+ here.
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