Breaking past the boundaries of its wildly popular predecessor, “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” returned to television screens this summer with new stories to tell and innovative takes on all of our favorite throwback Disney classics.
Season two follows up on the story of the energetic bunch of theatre kids at East High, exploring the lives of the characters we’ve come to know and love and following their musical hijinks.
Tackling heavy subjects like sexuality, divorce, imposter syndrome and the fear of growing up, season two intertwines the high stakes challenges of the students facing off against their theatre rivals North High in The National Menken Award theatre competition with relatable and heart-wrenching elements of the high school experience — bringing new life and energy to the popular Disney+ program.
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This season picks up on New Year’s Eve, just weeks after the successful production of “High School Musical” which landed Nini (Olivia Rodrigo) an offer to the Youth Actors Conservatory — a performing arts school in Denver. Ricky’s (Joshua Bassett) in a blissful, yet unaware daze about his showmance and the presumed spring production of High School Musical 2, with the rest of the talented East High bunch prepped and ready to make their mark.
In an interview with The Badger Herald, cast members Julia Lester (Ashlyn) and Larry Saperstein (Big Red) shared their favorite parts about the show’s second season return.
In Conversation With The Cast
Since its first season in 2019, “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” has paid careful attention to its representation of characters from a wide range of backgrounds and personal experiences and has found ways ingrain diversity and difference. The refreshing series breaks stereotypes in each and every episode through subtle and explicit actions in conversations between characters.
The show, which won a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Kids and Family Programming for its first season, continues this representation by combining real-life issues with music and engaging storylines.
“It’s really cool, getting to portray this sort of new generation of high school students who are living freely and outspoken and without any boundaries,” Lester said. “When I was in high school, our generation was still coming into this kind of new age of speaking boldly and freely, expressing opinions and living life out loud, so, it’s been extremely rewarding, getting to play a character and be a part of a show that highlights that.”
Though Lester and Saperstein play love interests on the show and the more central LGBTQ+ couple consists of the widely-adored Carlos and Seb (Seblos to fans), both actors identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community.
They both expressed their excitement for sharing these stories with audiences who missed out on these narratives in their childhood.
“It’s really important for this generation to see that portrayed on screen because I think even we lacked some of that in the shows that we grew up watching,” Lester said. “It’s extremely rewarding and I’m just really touched that we have the opportunity to do that.”
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When speaking about what would surprise fans most about this season, the actors said their greatest excitement was the further exploration of new characters and characters who audiences did not know as well.
“Something that I think about all the time is how I’m always so excited whenever we get to do scenes with people who we didn’t get to in season one,” Saperstein said. “If there’s ever a quick scene with Big Red and Kourtney or something fun like that, getting to those new pairings was always so cool.”
Pairings like Kourtney (Dara Renee) and Big Red (Saperstein) bring new experiences for characters to explore in season two, in addition to lots of unexpected drama.
Big Red’s family pizza shop is also a spot of excitement, serving as one of the most popular hangout spots for the East High crew and sets the scene for several breakups, ballads and parties thrown.
“Getting to have more people come into our world and including our rivals from North High and become just as we are was so exciting,” Saperstein said. “In our second year, it really is like home for us, especially like the school and the people. All that stuff made the second season such a big moment.”
Saperstein and Lester boasted more excitement to come for the end of an exciting season back at East High, including incredible songs like “The Rose Song” written by breakout star Olivia Rodrigo whose first song “All I Want,” which was featured on the show’s first season, debuted at number 90 on U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and whose album “Sour” has topped the charts since its release.
“We were really looking forward to season two because we were making it so much bigger and better, because of the success of season one and because of the family,” Saperstein said.
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With love triangles and squares, dance numbers and songs and shining stars galore, “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” season two promises audiences a fulfilling and exciting ride through the lives of our favorite East High kids and real life pop icons — we’re looking at you, Olivia Rodrigo.
The last episode of season two premiered on Disney+ July 30 and with the insight of Saperstein and Lester, we have no choice but to watch (and stan).
“I think the show gained more heart than it had before, just for everything that was going on off camera and how much we all grew to appreciate each other in a new way and love each other,” Lester said. “I think our love for each other just resonates more on screen this season.”