With all of the continuing expansion of musical sounds and styles, I was surprised, but not shocked, to learn that the #1 selling album of 2006 was the soundtrack album to the Disney Original Movie, “High School Musical”. As a parent, I was caught between the early years of Disney musicals and the future life I wasn’t yet anticipating full of high school theater, so when this craze hit, I was not familiar or up to speed in any way. Ultimately, I never would have expected what a huge impact high school theater would have on the life of my own son and mine as well, nor would I have predicted that sixteen years later I would see a nervous young lady make her large-scale acting debut in her own version of “High School Musical”.
The soundtrack itself is fairly innocuous, as performed by Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens and others. Efron would subsequently also star in the 2007 version of “Hairspray”, which is one of my overall favorite modern musicals for many reasons. Even if the songs on this album don’t really do much for me, I’m very sentimental about this album and the varying emotions it triggered. My only real experience with any song on this soundtrack prior to seeing this show and listening to this album this year was watching Phil Dunphy embarrass himself and his family with his hipster-dad attempt to pull off “We’re All in This Together” on the television show “Modern Family”.
As I noted, I have seen dozens of high school musicals in my life, primarily during the years of 2010 to 2014. Some of them were amazing, some of them were OK, and some of them were train-wrecks. None of that really matters, as what was important was that each was a showcase for young actors and actresses and their crew to learn the world of theater, take on the challenge of a new role, and experience the joy and celebration of weeks and months of hard work and preparation. For my family, high school theater was a safe and happy space for those who may have previously struggled to find their place in life, and many of my favorite memories in life are watching my son and his friends perform in school and community theater musicals for almost five years.
“High School Musical” is in fact, a musical about a musical, and it is a solid reflection of the drama, tension, and camaraderie that ultimately results in staging such a show. I even reflect on my own theatrical career in high school, where I went from being the lead role in “You Can’t Take It With You” to being mercifully cast in the ensemble in “Oklahoma”, based on my disastrous singing and dancing skills. I learned a lot about myself from both experiences, perhaps most importantly that any show, team, company or collaboration in life is much bigger than any one person, and that to be successful, we all have to prioritize the greater good of the larger group above our own needs and wants.
It was very heartwarming and positive for me to return to this atmosphere this year, to watch another important person in my life take the leap into this show, and as such, it was my first “High School Musical” in many years, as well as my first time actually seeing this particular show being performed. Through another set of eyes, I was able to witness the bonding influence the show has on all of those around it, and I was particularly happy to see the mom of this performer beaming with pride and love as she watched her daughter take the stage.
I think Troy Bolton, Gabriella Montez, Sharpay Evans and even Phil Dunphy were all right. We ARE all in this together, and the more we take the time to celebrate our youth and the beauty of the arts, the better off we all will be.