The crop of budding thespians in Disney’s “High School Musical” is finally welcoming an openly gay teen into the mix.
Written by Tim Federle, the 10-episode reboot puts a mockumentary spin on the smash 2006 film, which spawned two sequels and catapulted Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens to stardom. This time, the focus is on a group of students at the Salt Lake City high school where the original “High School Musical” was filmed. They’re staging a production of ... “High School Musical.”
The student choreographer of the musical-within-the-musical series is Carlos, played by Frankie A. Rodriguez. Like his character, Rodriguez is gay and Latinx, and sees his casting in the new series as a reflection of his own adolescent experience in many ways.
“I think for Disney to take a chance like this, it’s very exciting,” the actor told The Advocate in an interview published Monday. Noting that his high school years in Selma, California, did not include a “dramatic story being shoved into lockers,” he added, “I’m very happy that I got to portray this role because I was drawing on so much of my actual high school experience and bringing that to the character.”
“High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” arrives four years after the conclusion of “Glee,” another series that utilized the performing arts to broadly comment on teen issues. While “Glee” featured coming out and anti-LGBTQ bullying storylines from the get-go, the students in “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” view Carlos’s sexuality with nonchalance.
In addition to Carlos, the show also features a student who is being raised by two moms, while the school production of “High School Musical” features a gender-swapped casting choice. These changes, Rodriguez said, help keep the show “true to [modern] life” and collectively send a message to LGBTQ youth that they’re “no different than everybody else.”
“Society has normalized certain things that just don’t make sense — like Barbies are for girls and trucks are for boys,” Rodriguez told The Advocate. “That always confused me as a kid. It’s OK to have self-expression and it’s OK to try crazy hair colors. If you’re a boy and you want to paint your nails, do it.”
While Disney stands to improve when it comes to LGBTQ-inclusive content on the big screen, the company has made strides in diversifying its TV programming for young audiences in recent years. In 2017, one of the characters on the coming-of-age series “Andi Mack,” Cyrus Goodman, was revealed to be gay in that show’s second season.
Actor Joshua Rush, who played Cyrus, came out as bisexual in August.