Disney Hits a Second 'High' Note

Just over a year ago, Disney Channel took a chance with its "Grease"-like "High School Musical."

The gamble almost instantly paid off, yielding TV and Billboard gold, followed by a marketing and merchandising steamroller that extended the "HSM" brand to DVDs, books, concerts, clothing, a themed show at Disney parks and more. Now, it's ready to do it again with "High School Musical 2," debuting Friday, Aug. 17.

Reprising their roles are fan favorites Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Corbin Bleu, Monique Coleman and Lucas Grabeel. As you would expect, music plays a key role in the sequel, communicating much of the story line. This time, however, fans will get to hear Efron's vocal prowess (in the first film, Drew Seeley provided the vocals for the Troy Bolton character).

"I've been singing my whole life, so naturally I was disappointed my voice didn't make it in the first movie, so that was the first thing I set out to do," Efron says. "I wanted to fully embrace this character of Troy, and to do that I had to sing the part. I wanted to get the opportunity. I fought for it, and luckily they caved and let me sing."

And Efron delivers with some very uplifting power ballads. Hudgens, who plays his on-screen romantic interest. Gabriella, concurs.

"There are a few [songs] I really like," Hudgens says. "I actually sing with Zac -- 'Gotta Go My Own Way'... it's a tear-jerker. It's very, very powerful. I'm very proud of Zac. He does an amazing job."

Bleu, who has already had a banner year starring in Disney's record-breaking film "Jump In!" in addition to releasing his first solo album, "Another Side," and currently touring nationwide, says the dance sequences in "HSM2" are more challenging than the first film. While most of the cast says the opening song "What Time Is It" was the most difficult, Bleu and Grabeel had another.

"'I Don't Dance' was definitely one of the most challenging numbers that we had," Bleu says. Grabeel agreed, saying he was actually wearing a back and knee brace under his costume to support his injuries.

"I feel it turned out really, really well, and I am very proud of it," Bleu says. "It's just the answer, sportswise, to 'Getcha Head in the Game' and has the grandeur of 'Stick to the Status Quo' times 10."

In addition to his acting, singing and dancing, Bleu is also the author behind his character's T-shirt slogans, including one favorite -- "I majored in vacation."

"That was actually a really great situation. They came up to me and said they want Chad to have really cool sayings [and asked if I] would be willing to write some," Bleu says. "I said I would love to. So my mom and I actually sat at breakfast and were tossing back and forth ideas and laughing at each other -- it was so funny. It's really cool because kids always know them, and they always come up to me and say, 'I love what your shirt says.'"

Kids will also love the added drama to "HSM2." The sequel is set during summer vacation, and class know-it-all Sharpay (Tisdale) has her heart set on trying to lure Troy away from Gabriella.

"[My character's] not oblivious to it, nor very threatened," Hudgens says. "[Sharpay is] just a girl that Troy's helping out with her golfing skills. As the time goes on, it starts to become more aggressive and things start to advance, and Troy starts blowing me off. Finally, I decide that I have to make up my mind and do something, which I cannot [reveal] because it would give it away. But there's definitely some drama, and you see Gabriella, my character, make some strong decisions."

Tisdale says viewers will see a more vulnerable side to her character this time.

"There's so many different sides to her in this movie. She's definitely worse in this movie, obviously -- she's trying to take someone's boyfriend away from them and that's not always nice," Tisdale says, laughing. "There's also a very vulnerable side to her that you haven't seen and how she acts in front of her parents -- she acts like a little princess, like she's the sweetest girl in town, and when they are not around, she's very conniving. She's trying to seduce Troy over to her side, and she's very good at that."

In real life, Tisdale says she's the complete opposite of her character, with one exception. "She loves to perform. I love to perform, and she's definitely got a drive. She goes for whatever she wants, and that's one thing that I share with her. Anything that I do with my career and life, I probably won't stop until I achieve that. Other than that, I'm not the boyfriend stealer, the conniving one nor the drama queen."

But the film is not all drama -- there are plenty of laughs and on- and off-screen fun. Asked about her favorite scene in "HSM2," Hudgens laughs and says, "Running around the sprinklers. We do it a lot in the movie. Everything you see [me] doing, like running around the sprinklers having fun, that's really me. I just really enjoy what I'm doing. I just become my character. Being silly, it puts me in my place."