‘High School Musical: The Musical: The Series’ lacks the charm and originality of the beloved Disney Channel film

Olivia Rodrigo, Matt Cornett, and Julia Lester star on

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Olivia Rodrigo, Matt Cornett, and Julia Lester star on “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.”
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Disney+/Natalie Cass

  • “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” is a new show from Disney Plus that focuses on a group of students at East High (the setting of Disney’s original musical “High School Musical”) as they stage a production of the musical.
  • The new show’s premise is super meta, and doesn’t really have the same infectious energy as the original Disney movie.
  • While the first “High School Musical” was gloriously campy and unabashedly fun, this spin-off series tends to take itself a little too seriously.
  • Plus, the lead characters lack the chemistry and charisma of original stars like Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens.
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Disney Plus series “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” focuses on a group of high school students at the mythical East High – notably the setting of Disney’s landmark original musical, “High School Musical” – as they stage a production of the iconic show.

Newcomers Joshua Bassett, Olivia Rodrigo, and Matt Cornett play Ricky, Nini, and EJ, respectively – three high school students trapped in a love triangle who are also trying to find their voices onstage as Troy, Gabriella, and Chad. This being a high school theater production, there’s also plenty of drama, scheming, and romance to keep things interesting.

Why you should care: It’s a reboot (of sorts) of the classic 2006 Disney Channel original film.

“High School Musical” was a sleeper hit when it premiered in 2006, and spawned two sequels, a concert tour, and a spin-off series, “Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure.” And the film has become some of a cult classic in musical circles following its release, mostly due to the catchy, if cheesy, musical numbers and the wholesome plot.

While the new Disney Plus show features many of the same locations and music as the original, it’s not really connected to the previous films in any way. Instead, “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” focuses on a new generation of East High school students as they stage a production of “High School Musical.”

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“High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” features an ensemble cast of characters.
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Disney+

What’s hot: The new series does a good job of integrating songs, locations, and references from the first ‘High School Musical’ movie.

Most of the characters on “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” (which seems to exist in an alternate universe than the original film) are enamored of the original “High School Musical,” which is presented, interestingly, as a Disney production starring Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the show contains numerous references to the 2006 movie.

Much like real-life theater kids, Nini and EJ gush over original props from “High School Musical” that their school’s drama teacher, Miss Jenn, has procured – including the cell phone used by Vanessa Hudgens in the first film. But in addition to props, the show also features several iconic locations from the original, like the auditorium, cafeteria, and grounds.

But maybe the most exciting part about the show is getting to see some fresh faces take on Disney classics like “Breaking Free” and “Start of Something New.” While Bassett, Rodrigo, and Cornett’s acting skills leave something to be desired, they all have amazing singing voices – so watching them belt out beloved “High School Musical” songs, even in the context of a high school theater production, is undoubtedly enjoyable.

Olivia Rodrigo and Julia Lester both star in the title production of

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Olivia Rodrigo and Julia Lester both star in the title production of “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.”
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Disney+/Fred Hayes

What’s not: The premise is way too meta to actually work – and in general, the new show lacks the earnest charm and infectious energy of the 2006 original.

Disney is still clearly trying to cash in on the success of the original “High School Musical.” And while the premise of the new show sounds intriguing, it doesn’t actually translate that well onscreen.

For starters, it’s strange that the series seems to take place in an alternate reality than that of the 2006 film. Miss Jenn and her devoted theater kids are clearly huge fans of “High School Musical,” but having them talk about the film’s actors and choreography like real-life devotees can be jarring. And the super-meta concept, as well as the mockumentary filming style, causes the characters to take a pretty detached and almost clinical approach to recreating some of the original scenes and songs – losing some of the 2006 film’s wholesome fun in the process.

In general, “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” lacks the earnest charm of the 2006 original (that basically launched the careers of then-unknowns Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens). While “High School Musical” was gloriously campy and unabashedly fun, this reboot tends to take itself a little too seriously.

The bottom line: Don’t waste your time with ‘High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.’ Just watch the original instead.

The new series is proof that you shouldn’t mess with perfection. 2006’s “High School Musical” was wholesome, earnest, and fun – and didn’t try to be anything else. But the new series tries too hard to recreate the magic of the original while still being a fresh concept, and ultimately ends becoming a bland imitation of the Disney classic.

If you need a Disney musical fix, do yourself a favor and just go watch the original “High School Musical.”

Grade: C

“High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” premieres on Disney Plus beginning November 12. You can watch the trailer below.