By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
HSM was created on the false premise that the horrors of high school can be erased by wishing (and singing) them away. Beach Blanket movies offer a more accurate picture of teen life. Even as a fairy tale, the genre Disney does best, HSM is pumped full of ridiculous assumptions and offensive imagery. Slutty Sharpay wears hooker boots and envy-green stretch pants with an R-rated camel toe. Gay Ryan isn't just a sissy—he's a mincing, 16-year-old Paul Lynde. And anybody else notice that the only two black male students at East High are a jock and a guy dressed like Urkel?
The kids of East High sing "stick with the status quo" and "we can be anything we want to be" as they fling themselves around fake lockers and phony lunchroom tables in the production numbers. Those conflicting lyrics go right to the heart of what's so wrong with High School Musical. There's a joke early in the show that alludes to a quote by Karl Marx about individuals being sacrificed for the good of the whole. It's a half-assed explanation of the East High basketball team's all-for-one spirit. But a more accurate doctrine to apply to HSM comes from John Stuart Mill, the British philosopher-economist who argued in favor of an intellectual elite where only those in the top echelon of the class system are allowed individual expression.
This is the real story in High School Musical and perhaps of high school itself. Only a small number of those at the top of the heap actually enjoy the experience. Among East High's carefully constructed castes, only the pretty people—Troy and Gabriella—get to have it all and see their wishes and dreams come true. The rest of the proles are there merely to support the success of the elite, including Sharpay, whose most loyal servant is her own beat-down twin brother.
The show tries to pretend, in the most artless ways, that art brings equality to the masses. "We're All in This Together" is the big second act anthem sung by the jocks, freaks, squares and geeks as they join hands to celebrate the ascension of Gabriella and Troy. These two get to be the golden couple. Troy wins the big game. Gabriella leads the math team to triumph. The two play the leads in the school show, a rewritten piece of Shakespeare that lets Romeo and Juliet live happily ever after.
And another generation heads to high school thinking they'll be Troy or Gabriella and it will all be so much fun. They wish.