Made in Utah: High School Musical

By Elizabeth Latenser
Photo courtesy of Billboard Magazine: The stars of Disney Channel’s “High School Musical” – (L – R) Corbin Bleu, Monique Coleman, Vanessa Hudgens, Lucas Grabeel and Ashley Tisdale.

The first High School Musical film premiered on the Disney Channel more than 10 years ago but for many, Troy, Gabriella and the gang are still rocking out at East High. No one could have predicted years ago that the story would be a mainstay in our culture for high schoolers and beyond.  In fact, High School Musical is still so popular that the Utah Office of Tourism created an itinerary guiding fans who want to visit  areas in which each of the movies was shot, as well as the favorite haunts of the cast and crew.

Filmed all over Utah but mostly concentrated at East High School, the film follows  star athlete Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) as he falls for nerdy Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens). Troy and Gabriella audition for the upcoming school musical. Meanwhile, the jealous Sharpay Evans (Ashley Tisdale) conspires to squelch their chances. The two must struggle to make it to auditions while also meeting their existing obligations to the basketball team and the academic decathlon. It is full of funny, heartwarming moments and valuable friendship lessons.

The original film was nominated for more than 18 awards and won 10 including an Emmy for Best Choreography and a Teen Choice Award for Best Comedy/Musical Show.  Salt Lake actor KayCee Stroh who plays the quirky, hip hop loving brainiac Martha Cox said after reading the initial script, “I felt like this could be the next generation’s version of Grease, but with a family friendly tone. Looks like I nailed it! I knew it had the potential to be great but never would have predicted its worldwide success.”

Supporting actor and Utah native Ryan Templeman, said he remembers being at a table reading at Little America and thinking, “it was easy to envision the appeal of the final product.” Utah was the perfect place to cast and film many of the supporting roles in High School Musical because, “Utah is teeming with young talented dancers and singers.”

Templeman’s most memorable (and challenging) days on set were trying to learn skills that were maybe a little outside his regular repertoire. He said, “As a non-singing, non-dancing actor, I was totally a fish out of water. I struggled mightily, but many of the other dancers were so patient and supportive; many willing to work with me through breaks and lunches to help me to get it right. To my mind, the true collaborative nature of filmmaking was on display. When that happens, it’s always special.”

Stroh remembers in the casting process feeling a little self conscious that maybe she didn’t fit the Hollywood mold.  Thankfully she auditioned anyway because director Kenny Ortega saw her work and said, “I love you, you’re different!”

Stroh has so many warm memories from filming and commented that filming was, “like a real life summer camp for a lot of us. The main cast all had connecting casitas which made for great pranks, making each other dinners and even teaching some how to do their own laundry!”

After filming the cast would hang out and explore Utah together.  According to Stroh a few of their favorite spots were: “the Alpine Slide in Park City, late night Denny’s visits (you can imagine peoples faces when we all walked in), camp fires up Millcreek canyon, Classic Skating in Orem and Red rock hikes in St. George.”

Being from Utah, Stroh was the go-to for the out-of-town cast. She said, “I will never forget the day that some of the cast asked me if Utah was always this clean?! I remember laughing about it but later that night I had an epiphany and felt really lucky to have been raised in a place that takes such pride in the little things.”  Stroh credits High School Musical for putting her career on the map.  After the show’s release her agent’s phone began ringing off the hook.  She is now married, the mother of two girls and splits here time between Los Angeles and Holladay, Utah.

While we would love to see a  High School Musical 4, Utah is  thrilled to welcome, Andi Mack, a new Disney Channel production to the Beehive state, and we hope this one is just as big of a success story as High School Musical!

Contributing writer Elizabeth Latenser is a film fan, mountain momma, dog lover and tree hugger.