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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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.