It's time to finally head back to East High as High School Musical: The Musical: The Series Season 2 premieres on Disney+ on Friday, May 14. The drama department is still coming off the high of a successful High School Musical show when we reunite with them in the new season, but as their Christmas break comes to a close, they discover that Nini (Olivia Rodrigo) is departing for an acting conservatory and Miss Jenn (Kate Reinders) has decided on Beauty and the Beast as the spring musical rather than the anticipated choice of High School Musical 2.
The drama club will have to come together to put on the epic musical in hopes of winning a Menkie, named for iconic Disney composer Alan Menken. Not only will they have to navigate their own high school drama, but they'll also be pitted against new rivals at North High for their chance at the award. The competition is stiff, to say the least. And can they pull it off if Nini is in another state?
High School Musical: The Musical: The Series showrunner Tim Federle talked to TV Guide about the surprising choice for the Season 2 musical, how Nini's departure is going to shake things up -- especially for Ricky (Joshua Bassett) -- and what he's most excited for fans to see in the upcoming season.
The Season 2 trailer reveals the acting conservatory is not all it is cracked up to be. I appreciate that Nini didn't Joey Potter herself and decide not to go for a boy, but what does that journey look like for Nini this season?
Federle: I think in Season 1 Nini talks the talk but doesn't walk the walk. She's "Born to Be Brave" and it's not going to be all about boys, but then in Episode 106, she's crying about boys again. I think part of that is the fundamental experience of growing up and being human, which is you say one thing, and there's temptation or doubt. So her journey in Season 2 is really leaning into her own voice and trying to figure out: What do you get when you get everything you said you wanted? What happens the day after that? How do you hold on to the stuff that you love but you know you have to grow up, and with that, things change? That's where Nini goes this season.
At the end of Season 1, Ricky finally became secure enough to be honest about his feelings. Is he secure enough to handle a long-distance relationship so soon after making the step to be Nini's boyfriend?
Federle: Ricky is doubling down on "I so screwed up last semester, and I am going to do whatever it takes to show you how much you mean to me." Long-distance relationships at any age are really hard. I think during those really formative years, they're even harder, and they're tested. I think ultimately, Ricky and Nini are a central couple of the show, and I think fans are going to have to tune in to see where they go this season.
Did having two bona fide pop stars, in Olivia Rodrigo and Joshua Bassett, emerge out of your cast during the filming of Season 2 change your plans for the season at all?
Federle: It didn't really change. I think it's because I am biased and I always think of them as pop stars, and always thought they'd become pop stars. They are both the kids I met three years ago when the show was cast, and they are also the next Taylor Swift and Harry Styles… It doesn't really change anything. Mostly, I just have true excitement for them and gratitude that the world is seeing what I think a lot of us who have known them for a while have been seeing.
How did you decide on Beauty and the Beast for the second season?
Federle: It was like the second Broadway show I ever saw when I was 14. It blew me away. I love High School Musical, and I appreciate the franchise, but I think we're also ready to expand and really lean into the Sofia Wylie of it all and pivot away from Ashley Tisdale in-jokes, as much as we are obsessed with Ashley and thank that entire original group for giving us a springboard. Beauty and the Beast is so metaphorically acute for the high school experience. It's so about, who loves me? Will I find true love by the time I'm X age? Do I accept myself for how I look? The music is so killer that when you have a cast like this, of just crazy, talented people, I could be happy hearing [spoiler] sing Beauty and the Beast. It wasn't ultimately that hard of a decision.
When we talked at the end of Season 1, you said you really wanted to go for big numbers in Season 2…then a pandemic hit. How did that change the production of this season?
Federle: We mostly reevaluated on the days with big crowd scenes and big dance numbers, but Disney's safety protocols were so strong, and they worked, that we were basically able to do everything we dreamed of at the top of the season that was just, frankly, harder and took longer… When we came back from the first break I remember saying, "Guys, I know this isn't as much fun, but thank you for giving it your all." I remember Larry Saperstein saying, "This isn't as much fun, but somehow it actually feels more fulfilling," because I think we all knew how lucky we were to be working at a time when media, in general, was going through such an upheaval. I still feel we're able to be big and ambitious, and I think you'll see some songs and dances and moments this season that still feel like that big, ambitious production value. But, at the end of the day, sometimes all it takes is Olivia Rodrigo to sit at the piano, and nobody doesn't cry. That works too.
What can you say about the casting for Beauty and the Beast?
Federle: I would tease that as big of a deal as Beauty and the Beast is this season, people who get the leads versus the supporting roles are not necessarily reflective of their actual role in the show High School Musical. That's thing number one. Thing number two is that some people I think are very surprisingly cast. Some people are very on-the-nose cast. At the end of the day, it's really the original songs where the show flexes its muscles, because we have such talented songwriters and such a gifted cast. Beauty and the Beast is a great note. It's like a tribute to this great score that so many of us grew up with and a movie we all love so much, but at the end of the day, this is a show about Ricky, Nini, Courtney, Gina, and EJ, and all of these characters' lives intersecting, more than it is a French fairy tale.
High School Musical: The Musical: The Series Season 2 premieres Friday, May 14 on Disney+.