Lucas Grabeel: Musical youth

This article originally appeared in the September 6, 2007 issue of **The Stage**

**As one of the stars of dazzling Disney success story, High School Musical, Lucas Grabeel is finally enjoying the Hollywood high life. In The Stage’s second instalment examining the growing musical franchise, he talks to Scott Matthewman about his shaky start in LA and how he got his break**

“The greatest part about working on High School Musical,” Lucas Grabeel says with a grin, “was the first couple of days.”

He clearly says this not to imply it was all downhill from there, rather that director and choreographer Kenny Ortega’s mode of working appealed to him from the outset.

“Normally, when you show up to rehearsals on the first day, the choreographer has got every step ready to go, written down in their notebook before they’ve even seen anyone do the dance. They’d choreograph all of it themselves.”

Instead, Grabeel, 22, and co-star Ashley Tisdale, who were to put on a deliberately exaggerated, uptempo pastiche version of the romantic leads’ big ballad, What I’ve Been Looking For, found themselves with an unusual request from their director.
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Top of the class

This article originally appeared in the September 6, 2007 issue of **The Stage**

_Rob Gilby, managing director of Disney Channel UK, reveals how the company is responding to the enthusiastic High School Musical audience in Britain_

Our marketing of the films has been driven by the sense of ownership the kids have. They’re demanding it on their desktop, on their mobile phone, as a CD and T-shirt. The ultimate example in the UK is more than 300 amateur productions that have been licensed to schools and amateur groups, where they can not only own a piece of the fun, they can be in it. I wish something like that was around when I was a kid.

High School Musical has really woken the audience to what the Disney Channel has been doing for a number of years with our live action comedy series and our original movies. The funny thing is that High School Musical was the 61st made for TV movie Disney Channel has done.

Our competitors are only just getting into the TV movie market now, but we’ve been doing it for a long time. And all our live action comedies are rating so well, we’re having the best summer we’ve ever had. British kids relate to the humour, the circumstances the kids on screen are put in, the way it captures their values and their lifestyle.

But kids in the UK do get a fantastic choice. There are 25 children’s channels, and a very strong public service broadcaster in the BBC, and that means there’s an opportunity to ask if we’re providing a diversity of choice. We take our responsibility really seriously.

As well as the fantastic programming we’re making on a global basis, we’re making local shows, including a short form show called As the Bell Rings, which has been rating very well. We’re doing our part to contribute towards that, and other players are doing their bit, too. But there is a perception that the industry is facing a number of challenges. The recent changes on junk food advertising haven’t affected us because we’re a subscription service, carried on Sky, Virgin and Tiscali. And while Freeview is the fastest growing service, once people sample the range of channels available they’re saying, ‘I want a little bit more’, and moving to platforms that give them our kids’ channels. We moved to the basic pay TV packages last spring, and that brought us to a much larger audience too.

High School Musical 3 will be going into cinemas first, which is the biggest compliment we could get. The first TV movie was big, and the second one is even bigger, and now they want to make a motion picture release. I’m really happy. It’s still going to be a Disney movie, we’re still going to act as partners. The schedule it’ll be appearing on the channel won’t be on the same timescale, but it’s fantastic news for the cast, the producers and for Disney as a whole.

Last night I was talking to Lucas Grabeel, and he’s really excited because as well as these movies and the others he’s made with us, he’s got other ideas he wants to pitch to us. He’s actually enjoying the ability to explore several parts of his skill set across different parts of the company. And the company is terribly supportive in asking him, ‘How else can we work with you?’. It’s a throwback to the old Hollywood model, I guess.

High School Musical proves there are opportunities for the audience to engage with our programming through many different media. Last week, we started selling shows through iTunes. It won’t undermine the channel, it complements it. Giving people a choice of where, when and how they access our programming is an important part of our brand. If they want it on their iPod, we’re going to give it to them.

_Rob Gilby was talking to Scott Matthewman_

Lessons learned

Over the past week, I’ve been representing _The Stage_ at two press conferences that Matt, our broadcasting correspondent, would normally have gone to had he not been moving house this week.

The two events (the launch of the _[Eurovision Dance Contest]( on Tuesday at City Hall, and of _[High School Musical 2]( on Friday at the Café Royale) both had communal press conferences before we had the opportunity of one-on-ones with some of the people involved. And with both, when the floor was opened up to questions nobody wanted to stick their hands up and ask a question.

You can call it fear, you can call it shyness, but whatever name it gets, it amounts to the same thing: I _can’t_ be the first person to ask anything. Maybe everyone else is in the same boat, because in both situations it took an achingly long time for the conference to get going.

Gradually, though, I summoned up the courage to ask questions. And, thankfully, being on moderately safe ground (I was virtually raised on light entertainment shows and Disney movies) I was able to ask questions that, to my mind, didn’t suck.

What I didn’t expect was that the panels in both cases would respond so positively to what I asked. I still don’t think my questions were especially deep, thought-provoking or profound: they just weren’t banal, and for some reason that made them stand out.

On Tuesday, I asked whether any action would be taken if dancers deviated from standard ballroom rules in the ballroom section of the competition in a bid to attract public votes (something that commentator [Len Goodman]( has, in the past, accused UK competitor Brendan Cole of doing on _Strictly Come Dancing_). Later, _EDC_ host Claudia Winkleman complimented me on the question, which not only came as a complete shock but was also immensely flattering.

Then, on Friday, the press conference for _HSM2_ was a bit flat. Early on, I asked Zac Efron to clarify about how much he sang in the first film (internet reports vary from “none” to “some”). Then, after teenybop magazines had asked questions such as “what is you favourite moment in the film?” and the Daily Mail had asked “what guilty secrets do you have that go against your squeaky clean image?” (yeah, because a bunch of famous teenagers are _so_ going to tell you, even if they had any), I was able to ask another question, so I asked director and choreographer [Kenny Ortega]( about his choregraphy team and how they worked with the cast.

The full answer is something I’ll be saving for a podcast on _The Stage_’s website, but suffice it so say that everyone on the panel started to respond well — from Kenny, to the screenwriter talking about how they worked out what each song should be contributing to the overall story, to Lucas Grabeel reciting an anecdote about his first dance rehearsal on the original film.

To see the whole panel finally be so animated on what was, sadly, the final question of the group conference, was immensely satisfying. What I wasn’t expecting after the conference ended was to have Kenny Ortega go out of his way to come up to me and thank me for my questions. He didn’t do that to anyone else, nor did he have to do it in my case, so it was both gratifying and also a mark of the man he seems to be.

The lessons I’ve learned from the last week are that I need to have more confidence in my ability to ask good questions, and to pipe up right at the beginning, when others are still sitting on their hands. And there are elements of that I can apply in more usual situations, as well.