The stars of High School Musical, the little cable movie that transfixed a generation, just might convince you that singing is the new rebellion. And anyone who said that sexy had to be dirty obviously never got a look at Zac Efron.
By Andrew Goldman
Photographed by Tierney Gearon
Styled by Kate Lanphear
Perhaps we shouldn’t have been nearly so shocked as the pair of High School Musical movies grew into the money-minting behemoth and generational touchstone that they have become. The first installment of the made-for–Disney Channel movie was produced for less than $5 million (and frankly, it showed) but became perhaps one of the most influential movie musicals of all time, and certainly the most profitable (chapters one and two have spawned a $1 billion industry). Nobody could argue that for a certain tween and young-teen demographic, the stars—Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, and Ashley Tisdale—inspire any less of the kind of panting, overheated adoration and obsession that John Travolta and Olivia-Newton John braved when Grease was released 30 summers ago. Whenever any two of the three go out, fans have a name for the combination, be it Ashnessa, Zashley, or Zanessa. (If the trio were witnessed slurping frappuccinos in the wild, it would be a sighting of the elusive Zashnessa.) But why have these films—on their face, no smuttier than any Doris Day picture from the ’50s—exploded smack-dab in the middle of what may someday be known as the Era of the Skank, in which alarmingly little kids began lionizing a group of young celebrities who view public pantilessness as a career move?
For starters, because there’s real genius behind HSM’s modesty. Kenny Ortega—the director and choreographer of the first two films, who returns for the big-budget big-screen High School Musical 3: Senior Year—knows well the winning formula for concocting a teen sensation. As Dirty Dancing’s choreographer, he was the guy who pulled Baby out of the corner and sent her soaring into Patrick Swayze’s arms. With High School Musical, Ortega demonstrates he understands that every great teen movie—whether it’s Sixteen Candles, Grease, or West Side Story—succeeds not because the lovers eventually get together but because they are kept apart for so long. How else to explain why it took two entire films for singing jock Troy Bolton (Efron) and crooning mathlete Gabriella Montez (Hudgens) to finally lock lips on-screen? “The Disney Channel has done movies where the guy and girl kiss, but Kenny thought it would be really nice if you didn’t actually see that,” says Tisdale, who plays Sharpay Evans, the couple’s foil in song and snog. “It left fans saying, ‘Wait, we have to see them kiss!’ ” And even though the feature film will cover both prom and graduation, the East High Wildcats will remain frozen in that preteen fantasy of high school. “I mean, you’re not going to see Sharpay smoking or anything!” Hudgens says. Regis will surely get to second base with Kelly long before you’ll ever witness Troy getting his paws anywhere near Gabriella’s bra strap.
Not that Ortega could have produced the same brew with just any random group of agency-repped adolescents. Hudgens brings an innocent spunk to a girl who can equally rock a bikini and the Pythagorean theorem, and Tisdale possesses that kind of pretty-girl-with-comedy-chops quality that served character actresses such as Teri Garr so well. But Efron—who, in the first two outings was too much of a pup to be Travolta-in-his-prime hot—still possessed a certain animal something on-screen that caused moms everywhere to lower their newspapers to watch him shoot hoops. It’s not just that he can shake it like Elvis, it’s that he has that magnetic quality that so many of the real deals demonstrated early in their careers. Warren Beatty had it, as did Brad Pitt, Will Smith, and one former member of the Mickey Mouse Club who plotted his own Magic Kingdom escape, Justin Timberlake. Nothing is certain, of course (someone somewhere must have once dubbed Ralph Macchio the next Brando), but Efron seems to have devoted some thought to making his big move. “Leonardo DiCaprio,” Efron says when asked to name a career he’d like his to emulate. “He did it flawlessly, starting out with a teen audience and making the transition.” This would seem to rule out a High School Musical 4: The Postcollege Years, in which our trio could vie for table-waiting jobs and off-Broadway roles while the audience holds its breath waiting for the moment when Troy and Gabriella, at 21, will finally swap spit. “It feels to me like making number four might be gratuitous,” he says. You’re 100 percent sure you’re done with HSM? “I think this is the final adventure for the Wildcats. But who knows?” No pressure, Zac. If you leave them now, all those little broken hearts will heal. By college, at least.
Don't blame me for the overly long paragraphs, I just copy and pasted. Though I did bold the only important part.