A cast photo from Season 4 of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series features, from left to right, Monique Coleman, HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL: THE MUSICAL: THE SERIES – Disney’s “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” stars Larry Saperstein as Big Red, Adrian Lyles as Jet, Mark St. Cyr as Mr. Mazzara, Saylor Bell as Maddox, Dara Reneé as Kourtney, Joshua Bassett as Ricky, Julia Lester as Ashlyn, Frankie A. Rodriguez as Carlos, Kate Reinders as Miss Jenn, Liamani Segura as Emmy, Sofia Wylie as Gina, and Matt Cornett as EJ. Cast members are all in colorful clothing and are standing or seated in front of a neutral gray background.

High School Musical: The Musical: The Series Stars Share Their Favorite Disney Memories

By Bruce C. Steele

The theater kids of East High have given us all a lot of memories to cherish over what’s now four seasons of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series on Disney+. With all eight episodes of the fourth and final season now streaming, it’s time to make room for even more memories as the Wildcats return to East High from their summer at Camp Shallow Lake. As they prepare a stage production of High School Musical 3: Senior Year, the students learn that Disney is returning to their school to film the long-awaited High School Musical 4: The Reunion, with original stars including Corbin Bleu, Kaycee Stroh, Monique Coleman, and Lucas Grabeel—and their talents will be needed as well!

While we prepare to enjoy this glorious intersection of High School Musical worlds, D23 asked this season’s stars and the show’s creator to share some more-personal memories: their favorite Disney memory.

Below are their quite-heartfelt responses. (More will be found in the upcoming Fall issue of D23’s Disney twenty-three publication. All these interviews were conducted before May 2.) These recollections of their younger years and adult milestones are guaranteed to move you as much—well, almost as much—as the series’ surprise-filled finale!

Julia Lester, who plays Ashlyn in High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, emerges from behind red curtains. She’s wearing a red, green, and tan plaid dress over a red-and-black short-sleeve top and has a triple-strand choker necklace around her neck.

Julia Lester, “Ashlyn”
It is safe to say that the 1999 Disney film Annie shaped me into the person I am today. Watching it incessantly growing up is one of my earliest memories. It was the gateway into my love for musical theater and performing. Anytime I had friends over, they’d be immediately coerced into being my scene partner in a dramatic rendition of the song “Tomorrow.” I would play Annie, naturally, which meant my friends would wind up playing Sandy the dog. I’m a redhead, so the casting was only fair. The story remains so special to me, and I owe so much of my love for the arts to it.

Dara Renee, who plays Kourtney in High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, stands in front of a neutral gray backdrop with her hands on her hips. She’s wearing a bright yellow vinyl jacket over a leopard-print dress.

Dara Reneé, “Kourtney”
I’ve always had a close connection to the song “Almost There” from The Princess and The Frog. Not only was it the first time I saw myself as the princess but the culture and soundtrack behind the entire movie always gave me chills in the best way. I’ve carried “Almost There” with me to every audition as my good luck charm. I even sang it for my open-call audition for High School Musical: The Musical: The Series! The words really speak to me in such an extraordinary way, and they show me that This Is Only The Beginning! So, no matter what it may “look” like, keep fighting and never stop dreaming, praying, and speaking that you are “Almost There.”

Tim Federle, series creator and executive producer for High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, stands in front of a neutral gray backdrop in his seagull costume for the Broadway production of The Little Mermaid from some years ago. The costume includes baggy blue shorts over striped leotards and red boots, as well as white bird-feather sleeves, a gray vest, and a beak-shaped hat. He’s also wearing round eyeglasses and bird-claw gloves.

Tim Federle, series creator and executive producer:
I was lucky enough to appear in the original Broadway cast of The Little Mermaid, in which I played an ensemble seagull, a dancing catfish, and an understudy to one of the eels (Flotsam? Or was it Jetsam? It was a long time ago.) As a kid who grew up with the animated film, it was a pinch-me moment to bring the story to life onstage. And I’m thrilled to see a new generation embrace Rob Marshall’s vision in the live-action film. Years later, I tried to bring the ridiculously sublime stakes of “Broadway people” to the High School Musical reboot I created for Disney+, including casting a group of real-life theater kids to bring the can-do spirit of showbiz folks to vivid life—there’s a reason so many songs on the show are sung live [during filming]. To this day, there’s nothing like an Alan Menken/Howard Ashman song to get me crying and singing along.

Corbin Bleu, “Corbin”
The majority of my adolescent and teenage years were spent in Los Angeles in very close proximity to Disneyland, so trips to the park were frequent. And, like most of us, the magic of Disney movies played a massive role in my childhood. Being a part of the Disney machine as an actor only furthered my love of its enchantment as a consumer.

Because of my connection and contribution to the company I was lucky enough to have a truly unforgettable experience at Walt Disney World that was like something out of a fairy tale. I proposed to Sasha, my incredible wife of now seven years, in the Magic Kingdom right in front of Cinderella’s castle. I had some inside help to stage it, [telling Sasha] I had publicity to do for the park, and Sasha and I could make a fun trip out of it as well!

So, on the evening of “press day,” we had a full camera and mic setup on the lawn in front of the castle. The wonderful Greg Bell, who was head of talent relations for the parks at the time, asked me a few “interview” questions, and then brought over a full-size Cinderella’s glass slipper to take some pictures with. I asked Sasha to hop in a picture with me and then said I should pretend like I’m putting the slipper on her for a photo. I got down on one knee and turned the slipper around to reveal the engagement ring we had hidden inside. I went into my speech, which most people who propose can tell you pretty much black out, and at this point we were surrounded by parkgoers who took notice of what was transpiring. So, when she said yes we were met with cheers from what had become our supportive audience. There were tears of joy, and we timed everything to a tee so the epic Magic Kingdom fireworks display shot off right then, as if solely to celebrate our engagement!

And as if that wasn’t enough, to complete the effect and send it over the top, we stayed in the castle that night! It was an unbelievably magical time, like we had stepped right into the world of fantasy we grew up loving.

Kaycee Stroh, who plays Kaycee in High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, is pictured in front of a neutral white backdrop. She’s wearing a white print dress and is holding up her right hand as if to show off the large diamond-like ring she has on her ring finger. She is smiling broadly with her mouth open.

Kaycee Stroh, “Kaycee”
I remember as a young child sitting on a Disneyland park bench, eagerly awaiting the beginning of the fireworks show. The air was charged with anticipation, and my heart raced with excitement. Like most children, I was deeply touched by the magical message unfolding before me, but that night, I felt something different.

As the fireworks reached their majestic peak, a surge of emotions overwhelmed me. It was as if the universe whispered to my soul, promising that someday I would return to this place and things would be different. At that moment, I knew deep within me that I would become a part of Walt’s magic and I would make a difference in this world.

Many years later, the opportunity presented itself when I returned to Disneyland for the premiere of High School Musical 2. It had been a long day, filled with press junkets, interviews, and a busy viewing party. Amidst the whirlwind, we were granted a brief respite to pause and appreciate the enchanting fireworks.

And then a familiar voice rang out through the night, proclaiming, “Wishes do come true.” In that instant, tears welled up in my eyes, streaming down my cheeks uncontrollably. It was a moment of overwhelming realization. I thought to myself, “Yes, dreams do come true, even for a little Utah girl who never quite fit the mold. And if dreams can come true for me, they can come true for anyone.”

From that moment forward, my purpose became clear. I wanted to leave an indelible mark on the world, carrying the message of hope and empowerment. I wanted everyone to know that they are worthy and deserving of their wildest dreams, regardless of their shape, size, color, or background. It was a journey that required immense hard work, unwavering faith, trust in myself, and a sprinkle of that magical pixie dust.

I am forever honored to have been given the opportunity to inspire others to break free from the chains of the status quo. To encourage them to say “no” to limitations, to dare to dream big, and to believe in their ability to make a difference. Each day, I strive to spread this message far and wide, knowing that it only takes one spark to ignite a flame of change.

So, my dear friends, remember that within you lies the power to create a world beyond your imagination. Embrace the possibilities, chase your dreams relentlessly, and never lose faith in the magic that resides within your heart. Together, let us illuminate the world with our unique gifts and leave a legacy that inspires generations to come.

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For cherished Disney memories from High School Musical: The Musical: The Series Season 4 stars Joshua Bassett, Frankie Rodriguez, Sofia Wylie, and Lucas Grabeel, read the feature “Once Upon a Time…” in the Fall 2023 issue of Disney twenty-three. The quarterly publication will be sent to D23 Gold Members in late August as a benefit of their membership. Not yet a Gold Member? Visit D23.com/join to sign up!