Friday’s episode of Disney+’s High School Musical: The Musical: The Series welcomes Lucas Grabeel, or at least a “dream sequence version” of him, back to the halls of East High for a very important duet. Spoiler alert: Jazz hands abound.
Grabeel, who portrayed Ryan Evans in the original HSM trilogy (plus a brief cameo in Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure!), appears in a fantasy musical number to help Miss Jenn forget about her sordid past and focus on what really matters — inspiring her students.
“He’s a good mixture of Ryan and Lucas,” Grabeel tells TVLine of his musical manifestation. “And they let me add a couple things of my own, including a nod to ‘We’re All in This Together.’ I also got to wear one of Ryan’s old hats while running around an auditorium, singing and dancing — which I haven’t done in a long time.”
Indeed, it has been a long time since Ryan and Sharpay bopped to the top, and Grabeel is well aware of how much the world of East High has changed. “We didn’t have smart phones or social media,” he notes. “It was a different time, yet it feels like only yesterday, which is a testament to how much technology and society have changed over the last decade.”
Another indication of society’s progression is the openness of LGBT characters in the world of High School Musical, something Disney never addressed in the first four films (2006–2011). Though many fans assumed that Ryan was gay, the character never directly acknowledged his sexuality.
“People have always asked me if Ryan was gay,” Grabeel says. “I’ve seen a lot of performances from the tours or high schools or community theaters, and they always take Ryan to that place of being way over the top. That’s fine, but that’s not exactly the way I played it. I had a lot of talks with [director Kenny Ortega] about his own experience in high school. He was not out, and he wasn’t running around being that way, but he had that energy inside of him. It’s such an important time in your life, and you’re figuring so many things out. Now, thankfully, people are much more accepting and welcoming of other people’s differences.”
Like all teenagers, Ryan was still figuring things out in high school. “Ryan was a guy who was really excited about theater and art and dance choreography and bright colors and hats,” Grabeel says. “But he also liked Kelsey, and he really liked [Zeke]. He didn’t need a label, because he wasn’t ready for that. He was still learning about himself and about people and where he fit into the world.”
“I didn’t mean for it to be a giant statement,” Grabeel adds. “I actually wanted to be kind of subtle. I wanted to add nuance and little things that you might catch the second or third time you see the movies. I wanted people to think, ‘That character’s more complex than I thought,’ instead of saying, ‘Oh, he comes out in pink and you know he’s gay.’ That’s not what we had in mind. We had a lot of fun with putting in all those little nuances along the way.”
Your thoughts Grabeel’s return to East High? The first season of HSM:TM:TS in general? Hit PLAY on the video above to watch “The Role of a Lifetime,” then drop it in a comment below.