Life-altering changes are in store for East High’s finest — both on and off the stage — in Season 2 of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. After all, as showrunner Tim Federle reminds TVLine, “Nothing feels higher stakes than high school theater.”
The premiere, which hit Disney+ on Friday, picked up with the Wildcats still riding high on their production of a certain movie-turned-stage musical, fully confident that the sequel would be their next show. Heck, Miss Jenn was already hitting up thrift stores in search of costumes. (“You’d think you could just find High School Musical 2 costumes at Old Navy, but no. It’s a period piece.”)
That is, until she bumped into a former high school classmate (played by Derek Hough), a successful Broadway actor who’s in town to direct North High’s production of The Little Mermaid — complete with an on-stage water tank. Determined to best her former bestie, Miss Jenn abandoned her plans of staging another High School Musical, opting instead for an Alan Menken classic: Beauty and the Beast.
Even though Miss Jenn ultimately put the kibosh on HSM2, the gang managed to get away with impromptu performances of the musical’s most popular numbers, from Ricky’s solo “Bet On It” to his bittersweet duet of “You Are the Music in Me” with Nini. And who knew “Fabulous” had so many harmonies in it?
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“The music is so good, and with a show called High School Musical, I feel like we always have to kiss the ring of the original — respectfully and gladly so,” Federle says. “There are so many people online who are like, ‘I just want to see Joshua Bassett sing “Bet On It!”‘ Or ‘I just want Olivia to sing “You Are the Music in Me!”‘ It was our way of saying that we know our roots and that we’re grateful for our roots, but we also want to expand and reinvent. I hope it felt like the best of all worlds.”
Pivoting to Beauty and the Beast was another conscious step in establishing the show separately from the lore of High School Musical.
“In Season 1, we had a bunch of high schoolers playing high schoolers at their high school,” Federle says. “It was super meta, but we didn’t get to really expand the visual landscape. Beauty and the Beast gave us that opportunity. It’s going to be really fun to see these characters in genuine storybook costumes.”
And then there’s the Ricky/Nini drama. (Can you believe we waited this long to get to that?) Already vulnerable because of his parents’ pre-Christmas divorce, Ricky was determined for nothing else to change in his life, which only made it harder for Nini to tell him about getting into YAC. After bottling up the truth for an entire episode, Nini eventually blurted it out in front of the entire New Year’s Eve party.
“I love 90-minute romantic comedies, but that’s not what this this,” Federle says of Ricky and Nini’s journey in Season 2. “In a television series, I want to send the characters on a journey of discovery and rediscovery and reconsideration… and maybe rediscovery once again.” (Federle also says he’s “really excited about the new pairings in Season 2,” and we’re just going to hope he isn’t referring to these two.)
Your thoughts on the HSM premiere? Grade the episode via our poll below, then drop a comment with your hopes for the rest of Season 2.