By Remi Williams
“The music in those shows isn’t hip hop, okay, or rock, or anything essential to culture…it’s like show music.” Oh how wrong Chad Danforth could be when describing musicals while he performs in one! This semester, one of our main foci was togetherness and the culture expressed in different musicals. Seeing the characters from different backgrounds come together means a lot in our world, especially right now. Even better than seeing the characters of a musical come together during this pandemic? Seeing your favorite characters come together when you’re 7. High School Musical premiered January 20th in 2006, and I vividly remember it. As someone who played basketball, starred in musicals, AND read for pleasure (yes, 7 year old me was much more accomplished than I am now), this movie musical was made for me. I was torn between my identities, and director Kenny Ortega told me I didn’t have to be. I was sold! And so were so many other people my age. My friends who had never been interested in musicals before were obsessed with the story, the music, and mostly Zac Efron as Troy Bolton. High School Musical showed a generation of individuals how we need to support one another no matter how different we are. It broke generational boundaries of cliques through dance, song, and a high school musical.
As long as high schools have existed, so have cliques. Originally, Troy Bolton, a budding basketball star, and Gabriella Montez, a freaky genius played by Vanessa Hudgens, were trying to push these boundaries at East High by auditioning for the spring musical. Their respective friends, Taylor McKessie played by Monique Coleman and Chad Danforth played by Corbin Bleu, did not want this to happen. They set up a whole scheme just to make sure that Troy and Gabriella would stay away from one another. Whether an acting choice by Hudgens or a directing choice by Ortega, seeing Gabriella’s tear streaked face before her iconic performance of “When There Was Me and You” broke hearts, and it really emphasized that dividing ourselves between groups of people could hurt us and others. It made clear that sticking together and supporting friends’ choices will help us create healthy relationships with people that we may not have considered being friends with before. Expanding our circles and including others builds a community that works towards inclusivity and support.
The choreography by Kenny Ortega, really shines in “Stick to the Status Quo,” written by David Nessim Lawrence. The lyrics of this song and the switch between soloists and chorus members separates the characters while also bringing them together. Each group wants the same thing: to stay true to their label and not branch out into another group’s territory. However, the choreography says the opposite. While the soloists from each group stand on their tables and act out their new found passion, the rest of the cafeteria partakes in the same exact choreography. Even though the camera angles still focus on the differences between the groups, a viewer can’t help but notice the similarities between the groups while they dance in unison. The togetherness emphasized by High School Musical meets here with the idea of individualism; everyone should take pride in all of their identities no matter what they are, and those identities should have support from others. Superiority between groups does not exist as they all sing the same notes and dance the same moves.
High School Musical’s most memorable number “We’re All in This Together” comes as the closing song. The title alone should tell you how important community has become to the characters of this show. While walking through a tunnel made up of extras holding up her brother Ryan, played by Lucas Grabeel, Sharpay, played by Ashley Tisdale, sings the lyrics “we’ve arrived because we stuck together, champions one and all,” even though she just lost the lead spot in the musical to some new girl. These lyrics show real character development from Sharpay, who once used all of her power to ensure that Troy and Gabriella did not make it to callbacks. She realizes that supporting her fellow classmates will help her make it through; if she supports them, they will support her. The choreography of this number also speaks to how the community has changed at East High. As stated in the last paragraph, the choreography for “Stick to the Status Quo” mixed togetherness and individualism, but the choreography for the last song finally shows everyone as one entity. All of the high school students fill the gym, some on the bleachers and some on the floor, to celebrate the way that they all came together for a win in all departments. All of them move as one, their movements sharp and their faces ecstatic. They reach for each other’s hands, and you can tell that they fully support one another as they dance in celebration. Seeing this as a 7 year old (and as a 21 year old) reminds me that we should not have to choose between our activities or our friends; supporting everyone’s successes help bring us together as a community.
The availability of this show to the public also allows us to feel a larger sense of community. It originally premiered on Disney Channel, something that anyone with cable had access to. If you didn’t have cable, you could go to a friends house and watch, which most of my friends did anyway. They sold it in stores on DVD and Blu-ray (wow I feel old), making it even more accessible. When the hype died down, they eventually sold for about $5 and probably still do now; what a steal! It now also streams on Disney+, covering almost all bases of media platforms. You can find the soundtrack on a CD, on most music streaming platforms, and it used to play on Radio Disney, the children’s radio. The fact that almost everyone can enjoy this movie musical in one way or another allows individuals to come together over it and brings our community closer, especially those of us who grew up with it. High School Musical does a lot to bring communities together that would not usually interact with one another. The jocks can sing, the singers can play sports, the nerds can do pretty much anything, and each group should support the other. Having this premiere on a children’s network with a viewership of shapeable minds also helped their cause. As a 7 year old watching this, I did not consciously know that I would take these lessons with me after watching it for the 100th time, but it definitely allowed me to feel comfortable being the girl who did it all. I didn’t have to choose who I wanted to be; I got to be whatever I wanted all at the same time, and I had a lot of different friends because of it. High School Musical changed the way that people saw one another, and for that reason, it now is and always will be culturally relevant.