Disney’s ‘High School Musical’ Launches Live Concert Tour
The parents milling around backstage are about the only thing in Disney's new $8.5 million "High School Musical" stage spectacular tour that look anything like well, high school. Engineered by veterans of Rolling Stones tours and tricked out with intricate choreography, confetti drops and a giant backdrop screen for heartthrob close-ups, the concert was designed to wow the "tween" fans who made the TV movie a nationwide hit faster than Paris Hilton can say, "hot."
The snappy 90-minute stage performance zips along untethered from the plot of the movie, a love story between a basketball jock and an academic decathlon nerd who upset their school's social order by auditioning for lead roles in a musical.
Instead, the concert features the six stars as celebrities, rather than in their character roles, and showcases hits from the movie soundtrack. Lucas Grabeel, one of the movie's main characters, emcees the proceedings, giving frequent shout-outs to the audience and stringing together set pieces with good-natured onstage banter.
Three cast members with newly released or forthcoming solo albums Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale and Corbin Bleu do solo sets.
The only cast member missing the concert tour is Zac Efron, who played the male lead in the movie. He is working on the movie version of the musical "Hairspray." Drew Seeley, who sang on the "High School Musical" soundtrack and co-wrote one of its songs, is touring in Efron's place.
Nine trucks, 10 buses and about 90 crew members will accompany the six performers on the 40-city arena tour, which begins in San Diego on Nov. 29 and wraps up with a finale in Las Vegas on Jan. 28. The group will play a newly added New Year's Eve gig in Uniondale, N.Y.
It's a professional schedule for a cast that is mostly new to the rigors of the road, though the stars are all professional actors, some with serious tween bona fides: Tisdale, who played comically evil drama queen Sharpay, is well known to fans of the popular Disney Channel sitcom "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody."
"I'm freaking out!" exclaimed Coleman as she bopped around backstage in San Diego before the show's last dry run. At 26, Coleman – who parlayed her popularity into a stint on ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" – is the oldest of the group.
Minutes later, she was twirling across the stage in a pair of sparkling high heels she called "blinged out."
The star of the concert is 17-year-old Hudgens, the Posh Spice lookalike who played Gabriella, the "brainiac" in the movie. Along with reprising duets from the soundtrack, Hudgens slinks through three songs from her new pop album as a giant rhinestone-encrusted "V" drops down from the ceiling and her music video plays on the screen behind her.
The tour follows Disney's success with another concert series based on its TV musical, "The Cheetah Girls," which laid the groundwork for the success of "High School Musical."
"Cheetah Girls" director Kenny Ortega, a veteran choreographer who worked on "Dirty Dancing" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," created and directed "High School Musical." He said the stage show was a natural extension for a pop phenomenon.
"We all have other projects we could be doing, but we wanted to get out there and do this for all the fans," he said.
The movie drew nearly 8 million viewers in its first outing on the Disney Channel last January, making it the top-rated basic-cable TV show that week. A repeat airing the very next night attracted more than 6 million viewers, according to the Nielsen Media Research group, making it the No. 2-rated cable show of the week. Since then, Disney estimates nearly 60 million people have seen the movie.
What started as a bubble gum TV movie – "Romeo and Juliet" meets "Grease" for the iPod generation – has spawned a sing-along karaoke version, a triple-platinum album, cell phone ring tones, a novel and, yes, countless real high school musicals. It has not been released in theater.
A sequel is set to begin production early next year for broadcast in August, and Ortega said a potential Broadway production is in the early workshop phase. Spinoff shows are being planned for the Disney parks.
Ortega won an Emmy for choreography on the movie in September, while the soundtrack was nominated for an American Music Award in the general pop category.
According to Disney, the soundtrack is on track to be the year's top-selling album. It reached No. 10 on the Billboard pop-music charts two weeks after its release last January, hit No. 1 four weeks later and, after sliding down to No. 3, returned to the top spot again. At one point there were nine singles from the soundtrack on the chart in the same week.
"If you'd told me a year ago I'd be here, I'd have laughed," said Ortega. "We went into this just to make a little $4.5 million movie. All this is extra."