Back to 'School'

Tweens everywhere are texting, blogging and chatting about Friday's eagerly anticipated sequel, pondering whether it will be as totally awesome as the original.

Adults without a preteen in their home may be asking, "Sequel to what?"


High School Musical 2, welcome to the radar screen.

The follow-up to last year's hit movie on cable TV's Disney Channel is garnering mainstream attention, more than three months after the network announced that the show would premiere Friday night.


Consider that the original High School Musical was one of the biggest successes in pop culture last year. For those who haven't seen it, think Mickey Mouse Club meets Grease, a teen heartthrob-filled production that centers on a romance between a basketball star and an intellectual girl-next-door.

The made-for-TV movie has been viewed by about 160 million people worldwide since its January 2006 debut and the original movie soundtrack was the best-selling CD last year, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Recorded in five days, it was the first television soundtrack to top Billboard's charts since Miami Vice in 1986.

Even adults who aren't fans of the Harry Potter novels were well-aware of that phenomenon, but High School Musical's reach is less widely known as it attempts to strike gold a second time.

"I read discussion boards, and it's not just 10-year olds who are the perfect age for it, talking about it. There are mothers who say their 3-year-olds are obsessed with High School Musical," said Montana Miller, assistant professor of popular culture at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

"There's something about the form of a musical, when you get kids singing and doing dance steps together, that is appealing," Miller added.

And though the show is a hit among children of all ages (some high school drama departments have performed HSM productions), it's core audience are the preteens who practically relish all things Disney.

Most were born at a time when the more popular television shows for youngsters were sitcoms like Sabrina, the Teenage Witch and dramas like Beverly Hills 90210. Many of them were introduced to television as toddlers with parent-friendly, music-filled shows such as Barney and Arthur. Now they're drawn to a program about the joys and trials of high school - just the thing for those who can't wait to grow up.

"It downright mystifies me that there are adults uninterested in High School Musical," said Miller, "because it is truly a phenomenon."


Syracuse University popular culture professor Robert Thompson said that there were three theatrical productions of High School Musical playing simultaneously in Syracuse last year.

"It's not just a movie," he said. "It's a lifestyle."

The first release off the sequel's soundtrack, "What Time Is It," by the movie's cast, peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard singles chart after three weeks.

Kids are crowding Internet chat rooms devoted to the sequel, forming Web-based fan clubs and hosting parties Friday, complete with HSM 2 paraphernalia.

"High School Musical supplies have been selling pretty well," said Dana Sanders, marketing director for Gaithersburg-based online supply store Birthday in a Box. "It's similar to when the Harry Potter movies come out; everything coincides with the releases."

Missy Denault, executive director of the Mid-Shore Family YMCA in Salisbury, signed up the branch to take part in YMCA-sponsored High School Musical 2 viewing parties that are being held this weekend nationwide. Asked how much she knew about the movie, Denault replied, "Not too much."


HMS 2 is expected to pick up where the original left off - wholesome and entertaining viewing that weaves positive messages about breaking out of molds and exploring one's passions. It features cliques and divisions normally found in American high schools and teaches that it's OK to venture outside those cliques and pursue interests that would appear strange to the peer group.

Back for the sequel is the cast whose acting, dancing and singing exploits gave the original its breakout appeal, including lead actors Vanessa Hudgens and Zac Efron and supporting actors Olesya Rulin and Corbin Bleu.

Efron went on to star in this summer's Hairspray and left a wave of shrieking teen girls in Baltimore and other cities where he and other cast members appeared at the film's premieres.

"It's so exciting to see how we've impacted the lives of children. This little movie we made in Salt Lake City, Utah, has blown up," said Rulin, who spoke by phone yesterday before participating in a High School Musical 2 parade at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif.

Rulin, 21, who will host the Disneymania Concerts for Conservation event at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Pier Six Pavilion in Baltimore, said she's constantly approached by parents and youngsters who thank her and the cast "for making a movie that everyone can relate to."

In the HSM movies, she plays Kelsi Nielsen, a pianist who once lacked confidence but ultimately learned to stand her ground. Many kids can relate to her role, she says. Rulin says she has a larger part in the sequel than she did in the original; this time, when dissension threatens to divide the teens, she reminds them of the values that brought them together.


Not everyone's a fan. Miller of Bowling Green, for one, has seen HSM more than 20 times, teaches about the musical during her lectures and has visited high school performances based on HSM, but she dismisses it as a "bland, white-bread, safe movie."

"It's been slickly packaged as the Grease of the new generation," she said. "It doesn't push any boundaries or take any risks in showing conflict. It doesn't even have the nerve to face the issues of intolerance head on."

But Thompson said that's part of HSM's appeal. "What makes it work is that sometimes we really desire some incredibly slick, well-produced entertainment," he said. "I don't have a problem with that if it's done well."

Rulin says that, in a time of concern about the images emanating from screens big and small, many parents these days prefer it that way.

"Parents are just happy that it's a great movie with no offensive material that teaches that no matter what, you can achieve anything," she said.


By the numbers

45 million:

High School Musical viewers in the United States

7.7 million:

viewers for its premiere Jan. 20, 2006

160 million:


viewers worldwide

4 million-plus:

sales of the HSM soundtrack

[Source: Associated Press ]