Okay. Everybody knows High School Musical; it was the film series that set a template nearly all Disney Channel Original Movies since have attempted to emulate. It was a huge success for the network, and launched many careers. BUT, what if we have a show set at the school where the films were set, about the kids of that school staging their own version of High School Musical? Hence, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. Yes, we know, it's a mouthful.
In a somewhat-meta move, Miss Jenn (Kate Reinders), a former background dancer of the original film, joins East High School to direct the stage the adaptation of it. Perpetual ensemble-member Nini (Olivia Rodrigo) auditions for lead alongside her new boyfriend, senior theatre jock E.J. (Matt Cornett), but soon butts heads with new girl Gina (Sofia Wylie). Further complicating things is her ex-boyfriend Ricky (Joshua Bassett), who's never liked theatre but auditions in the hopes he can win her back. When Ricky and Nini are cast as Troy and Gabriela, everyone in the drama department gets ready for...well, drama.
Unlike the original High School Musical, which was set in Albuquerque, New Mexico, this show acknowledges that the real East High is located in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is shot on location there. The series debuted in 2019 as one of the launch titles for Disney+. It was renewed for a second season before the first premiered - though rather than staging the second High School Musical movie, the students performed the Beauty and the Beast musical. It was initially slated for 2020, but due to COVID-19 production was delayed and it didn't come out until 2021. On September 13 of that year it was renewed for a third season, which will follow the cast to summer camp and include performances based on the Frozen stage musical.
- Arc Words: "Trust the process," which is uttered several times throughout the show.
- And Starring: As always, given to the token adults in the cast: "with Mark St. Cyr and Kate Reinders".
- Artifact Title: In the second season they perform Beauty and the Beast rather than adapting the second High School Musical movie to stage. The only references to the original films are a selection of songs sung in the season premiere and the main characters referring to each other as "Wildcats". The third season will see this to a greater degree, as they are neither in high school (instead going to summer camp) nor performing a High School Musical (instead taking on Frozen).
- Aside Glance: Plenty, as befitting a mockumentary.
- The Big Damn Kiss: Two in the first season finale. Ricky and Nini get one after reaffirming their love for each other, and Big Red and Ashlyn in the stinger.
- Bookends: Natalie is given the last line of both the first and last episodes of season 1 (not counting the Post Credits Scene), telling everyone watching to "Buckle up, Wildcats." She does the same in the premier and finale of season 2.
- Two in "Showtime!" to the first season.
- Natalie announces that Act Two will be starting soon and requests everyone to please stay in the roles that they started with, referencing the several cast changes that occurred mid-production last year.
- While searching for the missing harness, Carlos stresses that the orchestra "hasn't vamped this much since 'Bop to the Top'", referencing the delay that happened when Seb got cold feet last semester.
- "Second Chances", the song from the episode of the same name, has Ricky, Nini, E.J., and Gina singing while wearing the same outfits they wore in the pilot episode.
- Two in "Showtime!" to the first season.
- Childhood Friend Romance: Nini and Ricky have known each other since they were in, at least, kindergarten. They didn't start dating until sophomore year of high school.
- Colon Cancer: It has a colonized title after another colonized title.
- Damned by Faint Praise: In the season two finale, Lily and Antoine tell the Wildcats that they enjoyed their performances...then the latter has to get a dig in at Big Red.Antoine: The beginning, the middle, the end, they were all wonderful. And Big Red! You were also there!
*Big Red scowls*
- Darker and Edgier: While not overtly so for obvious reasons, being on a streaming service allows for more mature storytelling in comparison to the original High School Musical movies - though not to an extreme degree, of course.
- Fake Relationship: E.J. Caswell and Gina Porter fake dated twice. In Season 1, they go to Homecoming together to try and make Nini jealous. In Season 2, when E.J. sees a North High Student hit on Gina in "The Field Trip", he pretends to be Gina's boyfriend to get the guy to leave her alone. They get a Relationship Upgrade at the very end of season 2.
- Faux Documentary: The show relies on Talking Heads, continuing the trend of mockumentary series such as The Office (US), Parks and Recreation, Modern Family and the like.
- Gay Guy Seeks Popular Jock: When describing E.J. to Ms. Jenn, Carlos laments that he doesn't know he exists.
- The "I Love You" Stigma: Nini writing a song about how she loves him and posting it online is what prompts Ricky to want to take a break. His reaction is clearly a result of seeing his parents' dysfunctional marriage slowly falling apart at home.
- Incestuous Casting: In-universe: In the second season EJ belatedly realizes that, since he and Ashlyn have have been cast as Gaston and Belle respectively, he'll have to spend the play romantically pursuing her. Ashlyn quickly shuts down any conversation on the topic, and we don't see any of those scenes play out in the show proper anyway.
- I Want You to Meet an Old Friend of Mine: Andrew Barth Feldman and Roman Banks guest starred in season 2; they were both in Dear Evan Hansen together, making history as the youngest Evan and first Black Evan, respectively.
- Kubrick Stare: E.J. has a killer one that he uses at Ricky throughout the latter's audition.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: The pilot's opening scene tricks you into thinking Disney+ has stalled, when it's actually Ms. Jenn watching the original film on her phone.
- Local Hangout:
- In season 1, students and faculty alike tend to frequent Publik Coffee, a Real Life Salt Lake City coffee chain, outside school hours. (The location shown onscreen is about a ten-minute drive from the East High campus, or about an hour's walk. Ironically it's the farthest location in the chain from East High - there's one just a ten-minute walk from the campus, west along 900 S.)
- In season 2 the hangout of choice is changed to the fictional Salt Lake Slices, a pizzeria owned by Big Red's parents.
- Long Title:
- The fact that it has a colonized title after another colonized title is an indicator that this show will not be taking itself seriously.
- The behind-the-scenes special takes it even further: High School Musical: The Musical: The Series: The Special.
- This seems to be a Running Gag regarding material related to the series. The behind-the-scenes series is titled High School Musical: The Musical: The Series: Extra Credit, the sing-along version is titled High School Musical: The Musical: The Series: The Sing-Along, and the OST is titled High School Musical: The Musical: The Series: The Soundtrack.
- Love Triangle:
- One of the central plots revolves around Ricky, his ex-girlfriend Nini and her new boyfriend E.J.
- E.J. is pretty much gone from the equation by mid-season...just in time for Gina to enter into it.
- In season 2, Gina is shown giving Ricky longing looks when looking at him and Nini being lovey dovey. Later she reveals that she gave him a last-minute love confession when she thought she'd have to leave, and now that she's staying things are awkward.
- For the grown-ups, we see Ricky's dad and Miss Jenn develop feelings for each other, with Mr. Mazzara developing a crush on her as well.
- Missing Mom: Ricky's mom travels for work a lot as a way to get away from her loveless marriage. She was gone both in the six weeks ago flashback and in the present, and it is unknown if she returned home between them. Ricky's comments about his father's cooking abilities indicates that this may be a more recent development, however.
- Mockumentary: The series takes on this tone, as the creator and show runner was inspired by Waiting for Guffman. In-Universe, no real reason is given for why a documentary crew might be filming them, and the characters - many of whom are underage - seem to have no problem letting the cameras follow them into very intimate places, including their own bedrooms and the school bathrooms.
- Musical World Hypotheses: Almost entirely Diegetic in the first season: every musical number is either a rehearsal or performance connected to the characters' involvement with the titular school play or their own songwriting exploits, and the one exception is All Just a Dream. The second season blurs the line somewhat: while there are still plenty of performances happening in universe, a few are All In Their Heads.
- The Oner: The season 2 opening number "Something in the Air" is shot like this, though there are two spots where the camera passes by a column and the scene might be edited.
- Percussive Maintenance: Ricky's computer freezes just before he has to leave for auditions, and he smacks it several times trying to get his High School Musical DVD out of it. Mr. Mazzara berates him for it, but a few minutes later we see him trying the exact same thing.
- Playing a Tree: Nini had always done roles like this or the back of a cow, with Gabriela being her first starring role. In Season 2, she is cast as a personified version of the Rose, and then gets demoted to a fork.
- Precision F-Strike: The use of "crap" and "hell" throughout a couple episodes prove that we ain't on Disney Channel no more.
- In the original trailer, Natalie says, "Buckle up, Wildcats. Sh*t's about to get real." When it aired on television, it was changed to "...it's about to get real." The censored line appears in the Disney+ version.
- Product Displacement: Surprisingly averted, and not just for the benefit of Disney-owned brands. In particular, Instagram (owned by Facebook) is mentioned by name in nearly every episode.
- Rearrange the Song: Several High School Musical and Beauty and the Beast songs get this treatment:
- "Bop to the Top", as it's performed in the series, becomes a slow ballad when Kourtney sings it for a mic check.
- There's a piano-medley of "Fabulous", "You Are the Music in Me", and "All for One" in the season two premier.
- "The Mob Song" gets a dance remix in season two.
- Recurring Extra: All the dancers who perform alongside the regulars are the same people in each episode, with some of them getting names and lines every now and then.
- Remake Cameo: Of sorts.
- Kaycee Stroh (Martha Cox) appears, apparently as herself, now a member of the Salt Lake City school board in "What Team?" It is implied that her influence was decisive in allowing Miss Jenn to keep her job as East High drama teacher.
- Lucas Grabeel (Ryan Evans) gets his own musical number (albeit in a dream sequence) in "The Tech Rehearsal", in a duet with Kate Reinders (Miss Jenn).
- Self-Deprecation: The show openly acknowledges that a sports star also being into musical theater being some huge shocking idea was already kind of silly when the franchise started, and no one at all finds it the slightest bit unusual anymore.
- The Show Must Go Wrong: The drama class have a notoriously hard time staging their musical in the first season.
Miss Jenn: High School Musical was wonderful. But it was not exactly...
- Miss Jenn accidentally starts a fire backstage, forcing production to move to a dilapidated theatre...which then moves back to the school (in the gymnasium) after Kourtney's attempt at a mic test blows out the sound system. The only person available to run the sound system there is Big Red, who basically joined the tech team by accident, and repeatedly hits the wrong sound queues in the first act.
- Kourtney then gets forced to sub in for Gina after the latter has to move away at the last minute, only to return partway though the first act and get the part foisted back onto her (though at least both girls are happy about this development).
- Just before the act break, Ricky sees his mom in the audience with her new boyfriend and has a Heroic BSoD. This coupled with finding out that there's a talent scout in the audience for Nini makes him panic and drop out of the part, causing E.J. to get bumped to the role of Troy and Carlos into Chad.
- Nini is so focused on said talent scout that she doesn't see Ricky's text regarding the situation, and is caught off-guard by E.J. showing up in Troy's role...who then goes off script, declares that he's not the person she should be performing with, and leaves. Nini has to pull Ricky from the audience and force him back into the role.
- The second season performance of Beauty and the Beast is much less hectic, though the characters stress this is because they're highly wary due to the events of last semester.
Carlos: A smooth opening night?
Miss Jenn: I think I may have been playing Troy at one point.
- Still, their attempts at using a harness lift to spruce up the Beast transformation results in Ricky falling on Ashlyn and both of them breaking their wrists. Then, just before the climactic transformation scene, the harness goes missing (actually stolen by rival drama student Lily). Miss Jenn, who's been growing slowly more unhinged over the course of the night, screams at Ricky to "jump off something high", and even after she calms down the cast and crew have to improvise something. We don't see the results, but apparently they were "passable".
- Show Within a Show: The High School Musical series is in-universe for this show.
- Stylistic Suck: "A Billion Sorries", the song E.J. writes to apologize to Nini after breaking into her phone and deleting a voice mail from Ricky. It's a parody of Justin Bieber and other teen pop stars, but E.J. thinks it's a genuinely touching number until Ashlyn tells him otherwise.
- Teacher/Parent Romance: In Season 2, Ricky's drama teacher Miss Jenn dates his father Mike Bowen for a little bit.
- Tempting Fate: When Miss Jenn chastises Ricky for missing a rehearsal.Miss Jenn:...so unless there's a family emergency -
Ricky: My parents are splitting up.
*Miss Jenn turns to look at him with an Oh, Crap! face*
- The Ghost: The character of Ryan in the musical. He's definitely there and someone was cast as him, he appears during 'Stick to the Status Quo' and is featured on the in-universe poster for the musical, but we never quite learn who was cast as him and his role is significantly reduced to a non-speaking, non-singing prop for Seb's Sharpay. In Real Life, the performer who plays the student cast as Ryan is primarily a dancer and cannot sing. (This creates a fun irony in that Lucas Grabeel, the original Ryan, is usually regarded as the strongest singer among the cast, and indeed Grabeel returns for a Remake Cameo number in which he sings co-lead.)
- Two-Teacher School: Miss Jenn and Mr. Mazzara are the only teachers seen with any regularity. Both also appear to be the only teachers of their respective subjects (Drama and STEM), and considering East High has an enrolment of 2,000, they must both have very packed workloads.
- Truth in Television: East High's real mascot is indeed the Leopards, not the Wildcats, as depicted in the films.
- The Unreveal:
- The penultimate episode of season 2 ends with the cast trying to figure out how to do the Beast transformation without Ricky's harness, which has gone missing. The next episode starts just after curtain call - we never see how the rest of the play goes, and only hear from Ricky and Kourtney that the transformation sequence was "passable".
- We also don't learn the results of the Menken Awards by the end of the season, since after everything they've been through the cast decide that the stress of trying to be perfect was more of a hindrance than a motivator and they'd rather just be happy they pulled off a decent show.
- Unwitting Instigator of Doom:
- Ricky's mom decided to invite her boyfriend to the show without telling him as a surprise which didn't work out to say the least
- The boyfriend came in the middle of Ricky's big moment causing him to freeze, drop the ball, mess up the dance, and leave the stage early.
- Ricky finds out that a recruiter for a school Nini wants to go to is there but don't want to mess it up for her so he gets his understudy E.J. to replace him.
- Ricky doesn't tell Nini in time so she gets surprised seeing E.J. on stage instead who is her ex and doesn't have any chemistry with due to not practising together.
- This causes her to mess up big time in front of the recruiter and the show goes downhill from there.
- What the Hell, Hero?:
- Kourtney calls Nini out for stealing Gina's stuff after incorrectly assuming that Gina had stolen her phone, though she later does the same thing.
- When Ricky considers dropping out of the play, Big Red calls him out on backing out of the commitment when so many people are relying on him.
- Will They or Won't They?: Ricky and Nini in the second half of season one. They do, but end up breaking up partway through season two. E.J. and Gina have this in season two. They do, right at the end.