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High School Musical Cast 5 Years Later: Where Are They Now?
A Surprise Instant Hit
"High School Musical" is an original television movie musical that first premiered on the Disney Channel on January 20, 2006. The movie tells a familiar story of star-crossed high school sweethearts from different social statuses who fall in love and find common ground in the production of their high school's spring musical. While the basic premise was nothing new, the unapologetic campiness and good-natured lack of irony and cynicism made the film an almost overnight pop sensation.
Within a year of its premiere, "High School Musical" had won Billboard Awards, Emmys and multiple accolades, the soundtrack had set sales records (at one point, six of the top ten iTunes downloads were "High School Musical" songs) and two sequels were spawned, with "High School Musical 3" making the jump from the small screen to the big screen - a historical first for a sequel to a TV movie. To date, the franchise has made more than half a billion dollars for Disney in tours, DVD and CD sales, and endless merchandising.
The winsome cast of young, fresh-faced unknowns became overnight international superstars, themselves garnering multiple awards, seeing their faces plastered all over hundreds of products - even going on a record-breaking world tour the same year.
Five years later, where are they now?
Official Trailer of "The Life and Death of Charlie St. Cloud"
Zac Efron: the It Boy
The arguable main star of the whole franchise, Zac Efron as Troy Bolton became an instant teen heartthrob with his dreamboat good looks. Efron caught the attention of fans of all ages with his surprisingly thoughtful portrayal of a jock torn between his heart and the expectations of his family and peers. Between filming the original film and the first sequel, Zac tried his hand at the big screen playing Link Larkin in Adam Shankman's smash hit "Hairspray," a movie version of the hit Broadway show. Hollywood had seemingly found its new It Boy, and his imminent superstardom seemed inevitable.
What's more, he had fallen in love with his on-screen costar, Vanessa, and the two emerged as a sweet public picture of high school sweethearts. The tabloids and gossip columns ate this up, and made the pair a primary targets of their scrutiny. Nonplussed with his newfound fame, Zac went on to star in the wildly successful romantic comedy star vehicle, "17 Again," in which he played Matthew Perry's younger self (I know, I know, what were they thinking?). Then "High School Musical 3" premiered in theaters, becoming a box office smash almost entirely on Zac's coattails, and for a few months there, it looked as though Zac was set to take Hollywood by a storm.
Unfortunately, Zac's involvement in a couple of art house and hipster indies didn't quite blow up as expected. "Me and Orson Welles," a film in which Zac plays a young man on the periphery of Orson Welles' theater productions, and the quirky drama "The Life and Death of Charlie St. Cloud" both earned Zac consistently good reviews but failed to make a dent in the box office. He has a few higher-profile films in the works, though, including playing against type as a jaded Marine in the upcoming film "The Lucky One," for which he gained 20 pounds. Though his title as the Next Big Thing may have weathered a couple of dents, Hollywood shouldn't count Zac out as a real Hollywood contender just yet.
Official "Sucker Punch" Trailer
Vanessa Hudgens: the Stormy Sweetheart
In the "High School Musical" franchise, Vanessa plays Gabriella Montez, the shy bookish new girl that falls in love with the reluctant singing jock. With her winsome smile and sweet voice, the triple-threat beauty won the hearts of millions of tween girls who wanted to be just like her, right along with their approving parents. That same year, Vanessa released her debut album, to generally good reviews and decent chart performance. Vanessa was on a streak of success, and seemed poised to become a superstar in her own right, especially when news broke that she was romantically involved with Zac off-screen, as well as on.
That all came to a screeching halt in the fall of 2007, when half a dozen crude photographs of a naked, underage Vanessa leaked all over the Internet. No one has ever definitively established for whom the photographs had been intended (Zac's publicity team was quick to deny that they'd been for him, lest the scandal tarnish his wholesome image right along with Vanessa's, presumably). But rumors soon flew that Disney was considering replacing Vanessa with another actor in the upcoming production of "High School Musical 2," in the hopes of disassociating the booming franchise from the distasteful publicity.
Fortunately, that didn't happen. Maybe Disney realized that tweens don't read The National Enquirer and would be collectively none the wiser about the scandal if Vanessa just kept her nose clean, which she did, for the most part. Additional photos from the same batch leaked online a year and a half later, but they were considerably tamer than the first batch, and by then, even an Internet scandal couldn't slow down the HSM juggernaut. "High School Musical 3" had wrapped and gone into post-production, ready to smash box office records a few months later. In hindsight, Vanessa was irreplaceable in the franchise, anyway. The sequels just wouldn't have been as accessible to tween girls without her and the charming chemistry she enjoyed with her on-screen costars.
Vanessa hasn't yet had the same professional success that Zac has. Her movies, while garnering her great reviews, have either performed poorly at the box office ("Bandslam") or have been repeatedly postponed ("Beastly"). Her second album was an erratic, unadulterated flop, receiving little label support or radio interest. But much like Zac, who, as of December 2010, she's no longer dating, Vanessa isn't down for the count just yet. A chunky role in director Zack Snyder's high-profile upcoming all-girl action film, "Sucker Punch," may be the breakout opportunity Vanessa needs to get her back on track, and playing the beauty in the upcoming "Beastly," a "Beauty and the Beast" interpretation, may re-establish her as a viable, appealing ingenue... if it ever sees the light of day.
Ashley Tisdale on the Set of "Hellcats"
Ashley Tisdale: Flashy Funny Girl
Ashley, who is Vanessa's best friend from the franchise, plays hilarious conniving attention monger Sharpay Evans, a spoiled theater diva who bulldozes over friends and family for the tiniest opportunity to hog the proverbial spotlight. Ashley instantly impressed many fans and critics with her fluency with punchlines, shameless mugging and Lucille Ball-esque comedic timing. Ashley's career initially followed a parallel path to Vanessa's. Within the year, she'd released her first album, and in 2009, she released a second one, with several singles performing competently on the charts and receiving considerable radio airplay.
However, as Jenny McCarthy could have told Ashley, it's hard to be a young, beautiful comedienne in Hollywood. Ashley has struggled to find projects that showcased the depth of her comedic abilities to the degree that her iconic Sharpay role has, and critics have often voiced the concern that she may have fatally typecast herself with the role. This may be a prison of her own making, as Ashley has agreed to return to the Disney Channel to reprise her role in the upcoming TV musical, "Sharpay's Fabulous Adventure," chronicling her post-franchise shenanigans in New York City and laying the groundwork for even more films.
But more than any other cast member, Ashley has tried her hand at a wide variety of mediums, including her own mall tour, CDs, bit roles in TV shows, romantic comedies, straight-to-DVD sci-fi films and highly celebrated voice-over work as the hapless sister in the Disney animated series, "Phineas and Ferb." Most recently, Ashley has found some stability playing an ambitious college cheerleader in the CW Network's hit show "Hellcats,"which premiered to great reviews and pretty good ratings in the fall of 2009. There's no shame in being a major player on a hit TV series, and her millions of fans are undoubtedly relishing seeing her on TV each week. While she's had her own share of tabloid drama, including her very public rhinoplasty in 2007, Ashley has been steadily applying her ambition, showing the public that she's in it for the long haul.
"The Real Son," 14341-Produced Award-Winning Short Film
Lucas Grabeel: the Indie Free Spirit
Playing Sharpay's dim but sweet twin brother Ryan, Lucas Grabeel received widespread acclaim for his quietly proficient performance as the flamboyant triple threat who slowly comes out from under his overbearing sister's shadow. Reviews widely cited Lucas as the most talented member of the cast. But in the ensuing chaos of the franchise's explosion in public popularity, Lucas steadfastly avoided the spotlight and chose low-key roles in obscure independent films, which either went straight to DVD, or worse, saw no release at all.
Emphasizing his commitment to thinking outside the Hollywood box, Lucas started his own production company, 14341 Films, which produced half a dozen short movies and music videos before it petered out. Some of these went on to receive awards at Slamdance and various other film festivals, and one of his videos sold well on iTunes, but none of them went far past the initial launch stage.
A definitive turning point seemed to come for Lucas when acclaimed Gus Van Sant cast him in a supporting role in his Harvey Milk biopic, "Milk," starring Sean Penn. The film went on to win several Oscars in 2008. Despite this, Lucas spent some months killing time, performing in regional theater, contributing to charity, and starting a second production company. This time, his business partner was Mitch Klebanoff, screenwriter of several 80s hit comedies such as "Disorderlies" and "Beverly Hills Ninja." Lucas met Mitch while starring in his Korean-American venture musical, "Legend of the Dancing Ninja," in which Lucas played the title character against a villain played by none other than David Hasselhoff. Unfortunately, the film became embroiled in studio contract drama and has yet to see the light of day.
Nevertheless, Lucas seems to have a knack for making famous friends - Dustin Lance Black, Oscar-winning screenwriter of "Milk," also cast him in his directorial debut, the upcoming "What's Wrong With Virginia?" starring Ed Harris and Jennifer Connelly. He's also landed a supporting role in the upcoming ABC Family series, "Switched at Birth," and he impressed the producers of the CW Network's "Smallville" so much with his turn as a young Lex Luthor in Season 6 that they created a whole new role for him in the show's tenth and final season, in which he'll be appearing at least twice.
Lucas' career could use a little more focus for his considerable talents, but he's proved he's willing to pay his dues in order to be taken seriously as an actor.
Corbin Bleu as Usnavi in the Broadway Musical "In The Heights"
Corbin Bleu: Song and Dance Man
The youngest principle cast member of the "High School Musical" franchise, Brooklyn-born Corbin plays an almost antagonistic role in the series, as Troy Bolton's best friend and partner in athleticism Chad Danforth. Throughout the run of the series, Corbin chose to focus on his music career as a side project, releasing an album of original songs and embarking on his own world tour.
A Disney favorite, he also appeared other Disney Channel projects, including a guest spot on "Hannah Montana" and a lead in the highly-rated hopskotch Disney Channel Original Movie "Jump In," whose soundtrack also sold well. He had a few misses, most notably the failed CW Network drama "The Beautiful Life," in which Corbin played a struggling male model. It was canceled after just a handful of episodes.
But it was his turn as Usnavi, the narrator Everyman character of the hit Broadway musical "In The Heights," that probably earned Corbin the most professional respect. He played the role to much critical acclaim on Broadway for several months in the summer of 2010, having been hand-picked for the role by the creator of the musical - and he didn't disappoint. Raves about his energetic, authentic performance poured in, and Corbin proved that he was a capable, charismatic performer even without the relentlessly autotuned Disney machine backing him up. No word yet on where his career may next take him, but Corbin's undeniable talent can no longer be easily dismissed.
Oh, and the hilariously twisted indie, "I Owe My Life to Corbin Blue," in which he plays a sociopathic alternative-universe version of himself, is not to be missed.
A Behind-the-Scenes Look at "GIMME Mo"
Monique Coleman: Inspirational Role Model
Monique's turn as Gabriella's Type-A, take-charge best friend, Taylor McKessie, earned her quiet notice as a colorful on-screen personality who did a lot with very few lines. The oldest of the main cast, Monique is also the only cast member who has a college degree in theater. She is a professionally trained actress, and she set out to blaze her own trail in the wake of the "High School Musical" phenom.
Monique competed in the third season of "Dancing With the Stars," becoming a fast fan favorite and reaching third place in the competition. She later joined the all-stars tour. She's also since appeared in guest roles on shows like "Bones" on FOX and "The Cleveland Show." Monique has completed two roles in ensemble indie films in 2010, and has a third lined up for 2011. Her career as a strong supporting cast member shows no signs of slowing down.
The majority of Monique's post-HSM efforts seem to have focused on humanitarian and charitable works. Monique has been involved in United Nations efforts for underprivileged kids, environmental causes and youth empowerment. In 2009, she announced plans to pen an autobiography on her Twitter and launched her own critically acclaimed teen talk show web series, "Gimme Mo." Monique's vivacious personality makes her an engaging interviewer with talk show potential (and ambitions), and her online following has been growing steadily.
Who Was Your Favorite Wildcat?
The Rest of the Wildcats
But what about the other, tertiary and supporting characters? Where are they five years later?
Charles Klapow, the series' assistant choreographer and supporting dancer, won an Emmy for his choreography in the first film and went on to be hand-picked by Michael Jackson for his "This Is It" tour prior to Jackson's tragic, untimely passing. KayCee Stroh, who played smiley plus-size pop-and-lock cheerleader Martha, has since gotten married and moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career.
Olesya Rulin, who played shy composer Kelsi, has modeled actively, contributed to environmental causes, appeared in indie films with stars like Jessica Simpson and Billy Ray Cyrus and snagged a recurring role on the ABC Family series "Greek."
Chris Warren, Jr., who played the merry baking basketball player Zeke, has gone on to land a principle role in the raunchy MTV comedy, "The Hard Times of RJ Berger," which starts its second season in 2011.
Five years later, the cast of the "High School Musical" series doesn't seem in any danger of fading into oblivion, and its legacy has left us with nearly a dozen talented, appealing performers whose stars are still faithfully rising.
Official and Semi-Official Sites
- High School Musical Official Disney Site
- ZEfron.com - Unofficial but Comprehensive Fan Site
- Vanessa Hudgens on Myspace
- Ashley Tisdale Official Site
- Lucas Grabeel Official Website
- Corbin Bleu Official Site
- GimmeMo Official Site
- Olesya Rulin Official Website
- KayCee Stroh Official Facebook
- Charles Klapow Official Site
- KennyOrtega.com Official Blog (Director)