After a much-buzzed-about first season that helped lead the charge for original on Disney+, the streaming giant’s High School Musical show, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, is back for season 2.

In season 2, the East High Wildcats, who are preparing to perform Beauty and the Beast as their spring musical, face off against rival school North High to win a prestigious and cutthroat student theater competition. Wigs are snatched, loyalties are tested, and ballads are belted. The show will also feature original songs written by series leads Olivia Rodrigo and Joshua Bassett.

Ahead of Friday’s season 2 premiere, Shadow and Act spoke to series stars Bassett, Sofia Wylie, Matt Cornett, Dara Reneé and Frankie Rodriguez about season 1, what to expect in season 2 and much more.

So High School Musical: The Musical: The Series was one of the shows that actually led the charge for Disney+ when it first dropped. And now, you have all of the Marvel shows of the other originals and everything [on the platform] after your show was really one of the first ones that premiered. So how does it feel to be one of the first entryways that people into Disney+? And how do you think that impact is going to continue throughout this second season?

Dara Reneé: First of all, I just want to say I’m so honored to even be a part of the first show that was able to make such an impact. And I just feel like everyone in the cast has just done an amazing job in season 1 and in season 2. And I’m so glad that we were able to bring an audience and bring new people to such an amazing platform. I mean, there was The Mandalorian, but our show’s popping, too. [laughs] I think it’s just an amazing honor to just be able to say, “Hey, I was in [the] start-up of Disney+, you know, that was me!” So, yeah, I’m just so grateful.

Joshua Bassett: My favorite thing to hear is when people are like, “I got Disney+ for Mandalorian and ended up loving your show.” I’m like, “Thank you.” [laughs]

Joe Serafini: It’s been really exciting to experience that like as it happens. I mean, we never could have expected to be launching a network with Disney. That was so exciting and such a cool opportunity. And yeah, it has been really exciting watching the audience grow and find our show as they have different ways in. I think it will totally continue to grow as the show grows and I think this year, we really get to meet the characters more and get to get some more insight into their personal lives and what they’re going through individually. I think it’s just going to give more people more things to relate to and there’s a lot of fun in store.

What do you think we can expect from your character this season and how has he changed from season 1 versus season 2?

Bassett: I think where the big shift for Ricky between season 1 and season 2 is in season 1, he was sort of running away from all of his problems and he seemed to sort of be running towards all of them, which is potentially a good and bad thing. There’s a healthy balance for sure. But Ricky gets a handful of curveballs thrown at him right off the bat in season 2 and so, of course, he’s still just trying to figure it out, but that’s what I would say is he’s leaning into it a little more versus in season 1, his one solution was to just escape and run away from all of his problems.

Since we’ve seen the first season, going into season 2, were then or now anticipating how people would view the show, considering it was this huge Disney Channel Original Movie franchise? How do you feel in regards to people putting it beside the films and what does that mean to you as an actor?

Matt Cornett: I think for myself and I feel like almost everybody, I was a little nervous at first when the show was first coming out to kind of see how people would view it and if people would like it. And having High School Musical in the title, it’s a huge name to carry from the movies. I think the biggest thing was we wanted to do everything we could to respect the movies and give all the nods to the movies, but also work on kind of giving the show its own name and its own legs to stand on. I think everybody did such an incredible job with that, from the acting to the music and the choreography and the writing.

And I think that’s important going into season 2 just because now that there is a full season for people to watch and people love. A lot of people expect, “Oh, they’re going to do a High School Musical 2.” And there are little Easter eggs and nods to High School Musical 2 in the second season, but we’re more focused now on just kind of like deep-diving into each character and kind of really focusing more on the show and making our own thing now that I think, hopefully, people are going to love.

Now that you’ve been able to be in the character EJ one season, do you feel like in the second season, you’ve been able to craft more of the character and put more of your own emphasis on the character? 

Cornett: That’s something that was super interesting in season 1 and for the show in general and each character and myself playing EJ, it was kind of a rollercoaster of trying to figure out who each character was and just kind of find the flow of the character in the show. And I think now moving into season 2, it helps a ton because we have a full season under our belt of playing these characters and knowing how people respond to them. The writing in season 2 is so incredible and the writers themselves have done such incredible work. I think that’s what’s super fun moving into the second season is, for EJ specifically. It’s almost like you start to see a new side of EJ because [in] season 1 EJ was very cocky and into himself and was worried about being this perfect person. In season 2, he starts to kind of come down to Earth a little bit and realize really what’s important, and that being the group and his friends.

As time goes on, do you prefer performing those classical High School Musical songs in the show or do you prefer the excellent original songs that are a part of the show as well?

Bassett: I think it’s always cool to sort of reimagine a song from the movies that we all grew up with and like it’s super fun to… It’s a very fun, creative experience, like giving it a new, a new life. But at the same time, it’s always so much better, in my opinion, to be doing something new, like brand new that no one’s ever heard. And I think that that’s just such a special part of this show, that’s like really makes it so cool is that people can have that nostalgia as season 1 and 2 music, but at the same time, we have so much new that we’re bringing to the table and sort of just changing the game a little bit. So anyway, I would have to say that I will always go for an original or like a brand new song, but I also do enjoy covering some of the OGs.

Sofia Wylie: I don’t know. It’s hard to decide because as a fan of the High School Musical movies, being able to perform some of those super iconic songs are just so exciting to my little 5-year-old heart. [laughs]. It’s hard to decide because then also the original music that is created for the series is so incredible as well. So it’s very different. I think one of them comes with all of this excitement and knowledge of this thing that you get to recreate, while another is just creating something from the ground up. And I think the fans really do enjoy both. Whether it’s a new song or it’s a rendition of another old song, they’re still new to the audience in every single way.

Serafini: I think it’s fun to just like see how these new people are able to like interpret these older songs differently and like make them work in these characters’ lives. It totally brings a whole new, fresh aspect to the whole thing.

How have you enjoyed, in general, being able to both act and sing in a show like this that already has an established fan base? It’s very nostalgic for so many people and y’all get to play double duty with a lot of this. So how does that feel as both a singer and an actor?

Wylie: It’s honestly my dream to be able to bring all of my passions into one singular project. I grew up as a dancer. So the fact that Gina is also a dancer was one of the reasons I was so excited to play her because I was able to just incorporate everything that I loved into one. But it’s also really challenging because we’re not just able to focus on one singular thing, but while we’re on set, we’re having to perform in so many different ways. But I think that’s what keeps it so exciting each day is you never know what you’re going to do. You might be singing in your butt off, or dancing your butt off, or just crying, giving all of the emotional scenes.

What do you think is the biggest difference between season 1 and season 2? And how you think they’re going to be similar as well?

Frankie Rodriguez:  I think the biggest difference, last year, we really got to meet all of the characters, so it’s all of the setup to get to know all of this whole new group of kids. But this year, since we got that over with, now we actually get to find out a little more about them and their background and how they relate to each other. And so, I think that’s going to be the biggest difference people are going to see. But the same thing, I think the music, the original music that we have is awesome. The dancing, the musical numbers, the storylines, I think those are all going to be very familiar and exciting.


The above interview has been edited and condensed for clarity, but you can view the full video below: