'High School Musical' Graduates to Multimedia Hit High School Musical began as a modest made-for-TV movie about high schoolers producing their own musical. Now it's become a multimedia phenomenon. By this fall, more than 2,000 schools across the country will have staged the musical.
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'High School Musical' Graduates to Multimedia Hit

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'High School Musical' Graduates to Multimedia Hit

'High School Musical' Graduates to Multimedia Hit

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Hollywood always dreams of a successful franchise, the movie or characters that can be spun into sequels and video games and merchandising. And the recent box-office success of "Spider-Man 3" has the industry speculating about "Spider-Man 4." It's not going to stop there, either. One modest, made-for-cable TV movie seems to have inspired talk about franchising.

Jeff Lunden reports.

JEFF LUNDEN: According to Rich Ross, president of Disney Channel Worldwide, it all started at a pitch meeting.

Mr. RICH ROSS (President, Disney Channel Worldwide): We got a pitch for "Romeo and Juliet" in high school, and to do it as a full-blown musical, no excuses, people in halls, they sing. And next thing you know, we had "High School Musical."

(Soundbite of song, "We're All in this Together")

HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL CAST: (Singing) Together, we're there for each other every time. Together, together, come on let's do this right.

Mr. ZAC EFRON (Actor): (As Troy Bolton) (Singing) Here and now, it's time for celebration…

LUNDEN: "High School Musical" is a sweet, squeaky-clean story about a jock - Troy, the basketball star - and a brainiac - Gabriella, the shy transfer student - who both not so secretly harbor a desire to audition for their high school musical. Will they or won't they? And what will their friends think? Mayhem and musical numbers ensue.

(Soundbite of song "Start of Something New")

Mr. EFRON and Ms. VANESSA HUDGENS (Actor): (Singing) This could be the start of something new…

Ms. HUDGENS: (Singing) It feels so right.

Mr. EFRON and Ms. HUDGENS: (Singing) To be here with you, ohh…

LUNDEN: From the moment it first aired in January 2006, "High School Musical" has been a juggernaut. The soundtrack was last year's top-selling CD. The DVD has sold over 7 million copies. An arena concert tour with most of the original cast barnstormed across the country last fall, and over 100 million people have seen the TV movie worldwide.

(Soundbite of song "Start of Something New")

Unidentified Man and Woman: (Singing) (Unintelligible)

Disney executive Rich Ross.

Mr. ROSS: In India, we were asked if we were open to re-orchestrating it to have a Bollywood sound, because the sound is definitely - the instrumentation is different. And we jumped on it.

(Soundbite of song "Start of Something New")

Unidentified Man and Woman: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

LUNDEN: And now, "High School Musical" is jumping onto the stages of a high school or middle school or elementary school near you.

Steve Fickinger, vice president of Disney Theatrical Productions, says shortly after the astonishing success of the cable movie, he and his colleagues fast-tracked a stage version.

Mr. STEVE FICKINGER (Vice President, Disney Theatrical Production) I thought, well, gosh, we have to have this out right away, because if we take our usual 12 to 18 months to write this and prepare the materials and to release it, the fever could be over.

(Soundbite of song "Get'cha Head in the Game")

Mr. EFRON: (Singing) You gotta get'cha, get'cha head in the game. We gotta get our, get our, get our, get our head in the game.

LUNDEN: So eight months later, the theatrical adaptation premiered at Stagedoor Manor, a performing arts camp in upstate New York. Disney's Rich Ross was there.

Mr. ROSS: It was art imitating life imitating art, because they were kids who loved theatre, loved musicals, getting to do a show about kids, some who do and some who don't love music and theater, and then performing for their families about that experience and peer pressure and everything else.

(Soundbite of song "Stick to the Status Quo")

Unidentified Group: (Singing) No, no, no. Stick to the stuff you know. It's better by far to keep things as they are, don't mess with the flow, no, no. Stick to the status quo.

LUNDEN: Steve Fickinger of Disney Theatrical says if a show is licensed by 500 or 600 school and amateur groups a year, it's a big deal. And "High School Musical?" Well, it's an even bigger deal.

Mr. FICKINGER: There have been over 1,200 productions in schools and amateur groups across this country.

(Soundbite of song "Stick to the Status Quo")

Unidentified Group #2: (Singing) No, no, no. Stick to the stuff you know. It's better by far…

LUNDEN: The "High School Musical" phenomenon was on full display a couple of weekends ago at Candlewood Middle School in Dix Hills, a Long Island suburb of New York City.

(Soundbite of song "Stick to the Status Quo")

Unidentified Group #2: (Singing) Stick to the status quo…

Lucielle Kenney has been directing the middle school productions for the past 20 years. She says more kids auditioned for "High School Musical" than any other show she's done.

Ms. LUCIELLE KENNEY (School Productions Director, Candlewood Middle School): We had 235 auditions and we brought it down to 122, thinking that maybe some people might drop out. But they didn't.

(Soundbite of song "Bop to the Top")

Unidentified Group #2: (Singing) Bop, bop, bop, bop to the top. Wipe away your inhibitions. Jump and hop, hop till we drop and start again.

LUNDEN: All four performances sold out. Fifth grader Madison Marissi(ph) played Ms. Darbus, the drama teacher. She says the kids really connected with the material.

Ms. MADISON MARISSI (Student, Candlewood Middle School): I guess people could relate to having, like, their own clique or their own group of friends that they're with and then wanting to be with other people at the same time, and then it's kind of a struggle to find balance.

(Soundbite of song, "We're All in This Together")

Unidentified Group #2: (Singing) We're all in this together. Once we know that we are, we're all stars and we see that.

LUNDEN: The audience was filled with families and a lot of elementary school children, many wearing Disney-licensed "High School Musical" t-shirts and buttons.

Fourth grader Mariah Anson(ph), who's seen the movie dozens of times, said the stage version was…

Ms. MARIAH ANSON: Awesome. My favorite part was the finale. The finale was really cool, really good.

(Soundbite of song, "We're All in this Together")

Unidentified Group #2: (Singing) There's a chance that we have and we take it.

LUNDEN: Of course, there seems to be no finale for the "High School Musical" phenomenon. A 60-city professional theatrical tour rolls out in June. "High School Musical 2" airs on the Disney Channel in August. And — hold on to your hats — "High School Musical: The Ice Tour" starts playing in arenas in September.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

INSKEEP: You can hear "Cellular Fusion," one of the new songs written for the stage version of "High School Musical," at npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group #3: (Singing) (Unintelligible)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Renee is back tomorrow. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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