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"High School Musical" Takes It To The Stage

Of the Oakland Press

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When Vanessa Anne Hudgens auditioned for “High School Musical,” she fi gured it was “just another Disney Channel movie. They’re all great, and they all seem to do well.”

But never this well.

It didn’t take long for “High School Musical,” which debuted in January 2006, to explode into a full pop phenomenon. Nominated for six Emmy Awards, it’s been seen by 58.7 million viewers worldwide, a number that’s expected to top 100 million by the end of this year. The soundtrack album has sold more than 5 million copies worldwide and was the No. 1 seller of 2006.

And “High School Musical: The Concert,” an $8.5 million tour that features five of the cast members performing songs from the movie (and more), has been a hot ticket on the road since it launched in late Novem ber.

“It’s kind of like celebrating the movie,” says Ashley Tisdale — who plays literal drama queen Sharpay Evans — of the live show. “It’s celebrating what’s going on right now in our lives and just involving it with ‘High School Musical’ for the kids.

“They’re really what put us where we are today, so it’s really cool to give back and let them see it live like this.”

A strong connection

“High School Musical” clicked as a feel-good, Disneyesque coming-ofage story in which Hudgens’ Gabriella Montez, a brain, and “Summerland” TV star Zac Efron’s Troy Bolton, a jock, compete for the lead roles in East High’s annual school musical — bucking an established pecking order that includes Tisdale’s Sharpay and her twin brother, Ryan, played by Lucas Grabeel. The challengers’ daring leads to an upheaval in the school social order that touts the rewards of following your dreams and not settling for the status quo.

“It’s a typical musical story — the boy and the girl and winning over adversity and everything,” says Hudgens, 18, who had previously appeared in the edgy feature fi lm “Thirteen.” “Everyone can relate to these characters — the brainy girl, the jock, the drama queen, all the cliques. We’ve all been there, done that.”

That’s a major reason the movie has connected so deeply with a tweens ’n’ teens audience, according to James Moll, principal of Berkshire Middle School in Beverly Hills, which has 140 students participating in a stage version of “High School Musical” that the school is presenting in March.

“Kids got all geeked up about the movie,” Moll explains. “It resonates with kids because they understand the language. They see it as a younger musical, I think. They don’t see it as a traditional or, in their viewpoint, stodgy kind of production. It’s vibrant and it’s exciting and it’s fun.”

Hudgens says she’s very much the “good girl” she portrays in Gabriella, though 21-year-old Tisdale — a veteran of the Disney Channel’s “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody” — considers the comically meanspirited Sharpay a stretch.

“She’s a mean girl; I’m not,” Tisdale says. “I guess I’ve got a little bit of what she has in that she loves to perform and I’m a huge fan of performing. And she’s very driven and I’m a driven person. She doesn’t let anything get in the way.

“But she does it in a mean way, where I’m totally not the competitive person. I’m more calm about it.”

‘We were all shocked’

Beyond its biggest numbers, “High School Musical” notched a number of other impressive achievements — the list of which includes separate popup, sing-along and dance-along versions of the fi lm. The soundtrack, meanwhile, hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart twice and put nine songs on the Hot 100, with fi ve — including “Get’cha Head in the Game” and “Breaking Free” — that reached the Top 40.

“Breaking Free,” in fact, is Disney’s top-charting song ever, peaking at No. 4.

“We were all shocked by the response and how crazy it got,” Tisdale says. “The ratings were, like, huge, and we’re like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s so cool!’ And then we were on the Billboards and, ‘Oh, my God!,’ and then nominated for the (American Music Awards) and the Emmys ...

“Everything just kept topping the thing before it. It’s crazy. We’re all so grateful and just, like, amazed by the whole thing.”

There is, not surprisingly, a “High School Musical” sequel in the works, which will start shooting after the concert tour wraps up Jan. 22. Tisdale says that even the cast has “no idea what it’s about,” although it will be subtitled “School’s Out for Summer” and will be set at Sharpay and Ryan’s country club.

Most likely to succeed?

The actors also are using “High School Musical” as a springboard for other projects. Hudgens released her fi rst album, “V,” last year and toured with another Disney sensation, the Cheetah Girls. Tisdale’s album, “Headstrong,” comes out Feb. 6, while Corbin Bleu, who played Troy’s basketball teammate Chad, is in the new Disney Channel movie “Jump In!” and is working on a record of his own. Monique Coleman, who played Taylor McKessie, was a contestant on the third season of “Dancing with the Stars.”

And Efron had to skip the “High School Musical” tour for another starring role — the screen adaptation of the Broadway musical “Hairspray,” which is currently in production. (He’s been replaced on the road by singer-songwriter Drew Seeley, who sang on the “High School Musical” soundtrack.)

All, of course, have a desire to be known for more than just “High School Musical.”

“I hope (‘Headstrong’) sets me apart as Ashley Tisdale,” Tisdale says. “I don’t just want to be known as (Sharpay) the rest of my life.”

But none of the young actorsingers has anything bad to say about the thing that brought them here.

“Anything from ‘High School Musical’ or me having my own album — I never would’ve thought I’d be doing any of this,” Hudgens says. “It’s really neat, but it still feels like a dream.”

"High School Musical: The Concert," featuring Corbin Bleu, Monique Coleman, Lucas Grabeel, Vanessa Anne Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale and Drew Seeley, takes place at 7 p.m. Tuesday (January 16th) at the Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $58.50, $48.50 and $38.50. A Quiet Room is available for parents and chaperones. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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