You would think after two TV movies, a film, a live concert tour and countless live musical productions, Disney wouldn’t be able to squeeze any more life out of its “High School Musical” franchise. But squeeze some out they have with a clever and entertaining reboot of sorts that’s just different enough to work with the new Disney+ series, “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.”
“The Series” is set at East High, the actual site of the filming of the original “HSM.” When the enthusiastic new drama teacher realizes that East High has never done the stage version of “HSM,” she announces it as the school’s next theater production.
Enter Nini (Olivia Rodrigo), an aspiring actress who has only played bit parts in previous productions but is coming off a great experience at theater camp, which included finding a new boyfriend, popular athlete E.J. (Matt Cornett). The two, of course, audition to play Gabriella and Troy. But standing in their way of playing the leads are Gina (Sofia Wylie), a transfer student who believes in being the best at everything, and Nini’s ex-boyfriend, Ricky (Joshua Bassett), who is trying to win Nini back and earn her forgiveness after breaking her heart.
When the casting decisions are made, the drama moves from the stage to behind the scenes as Gina and E.J. both scheme to get what they want, as Ricky continues to prove himself to Nini.
The spirit of the original “HSM” is alive and well in “The Series” as the new characters carry many of the same traits. But there are enough differences to make the show fresh, including powerful new songs and documentary-style confessionals for a fun, contemporary touch.
However, just like the story of Troy and Gabriella in the original, it’s the Ricky-Nini dynamic that sucks you in from the beginning. As more details unfold about why Ricky broke Nini’s heart, you start to feel for both of them. And you can’t help but root for them to find their way back to each other.
The show is squarely aimed at tweens and teens, but just like with the original “HSM,” I am totally hooked. When the “reboot” word started getting thrown around in connection with my beloved fave, I was concerned, but this is more of an homage than a reboot — a new way to keep that “We’re All in This Together” vibe alive for a whole new generation. In other words, this “Start of Something New” is definitely something I can get my “Head in the Game” for.
“High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” premieres Tuesday, Nov. 12, as part of day one of the Disney+ streaming service. To find out more about subscribing to Disney+, visit www.disneyplus.com.