Tim Federle is thrilled by the High School Musical stars who appeared on season 4 of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series — but he says there was one person missing.
“It was so great to get the originals back because it launched their careers in such explosive ways. [That is] the same way I think some of the cast members of my show are getting launched into the world,” the showrunner, 43, exclusively told Us Weekly. “I loved seeing how humble and grateful and just cool they are now — as young adults — Corbin [Bleu] and Monique [Coleman] and Lucas [Grabeel]. I really wanted to get Kenny Ortega back.”
Ortega, 73, was the director and choreographer of the High School Musical movie franchise, and Federle recalled getting in touch in hopes that Ortega would play himself in HSMTMTS.
“I called Kenny. He was super busy on a project,” Federle said. “He could not have been more gracious. I said, ‘Do you want to come back and play Kenny?’ And he was like, ‘It’s the coolest idea. I can’t.’ He was editing a documentary. Kenny’s on my bucket list. [I’ve] got to collaborate with Kenny someday. But I’m really satisfied with how we wrapped up the whole show.”
High School Musical was a cultural phenomenon in the late aughts. The Disney hit focused on basketball star Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) and new student Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens) as they navigated high school romance, drama and musical theater.
Disney+ rekindled the franchise more than a decade later with spinoff series High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. The mockumentary, which premiered in 2019, launched the careers of stars Olivia Rodrigo, Joshua Bassett, Sofia Wylie, Matt Cornett, Larry Saperstein, Julia Lester, Dara Reneé and Frankie Rodriguez.
As filming started on season 4, Efron, 35, surprised fans when he visited High School Musical’s East High in July 2022. His Instagram post in front of the iconic school came one month after Efron’s HSM love interest — and former real-life girlfriend — Hudgens, 34, documented her own trip to East High.
Efron and Hudgens, however, were some of the original High School Musical stars who didn’t ultimately return to reprise their roles.
“Ashley [Tisdale] called me personally and was so lovely. She’s very busy launching brands and it just wasn’t the right timing,” Federle told Trib Total Media on Friday, August 4. “And I got the feeling with Zac and Vanessa, who I don’t know personally but I’m a fan, reading the tea leaves, that by the time you get into negotiating what this would take, we’re gonna wrap and the show will be over.”
Although Efron and Hudgens didn’t appear in the final season, the show still had plenty of memorable moments with fan-favorite couple Ricky (Bassett) and Gina (Wylie) at the center of the episodes. Ricky and Gina weathered many storms but ultimately were able to get their happily ever after.
“I remember we had this thing in the writers room where we always tried to answer the question, ‘But why Ricky for Gina?’ Because E.J. is this amazing guy — who I think the audience will see is starting to land in a really good place in his life. And what we said is, ‘Ricky always makes Gina laugh,'” Federle previously told Us. “She can be really competitive, self-possessed, ambitious, she can beat herself up if things don’t go well and she’s a real people-pleaser. Ricky just can cut through all of that and make Gina laugh. And I think that’s one of the qualities of their relationship that she hasn’t had with another guy.”
He continued: “Ricky has these silly, goofy qualities [that] she has. I mean, there’s this look on Sofia Wylie’s face when she looks at Josh and there’s a look on Josh’s face when he looks at Sofia. I’m like, ‘Nobody amuses Gina like Ricky and nobody makes Ricky happy like Gina.’ That is so real and worth holding onto. Then the question of the season [becomes], ‘Is the timing right?'”
The fourth and final season of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series is streaming on Disney+.