Corbin Bleu is anything but new to the High School Musical franchise, not only did he originate the role of singing basketeer Chad Danforth, he also introduced the cast of the Disney+ series High School Musical: The Musical: The Series at D23 when the show was announced in 2019. Now, the stage and screen actor is venturing back into the franchise in a new and totally meta way—by playing himself.
“The Corbin I’m playing is just a bit more of a dick, and it was so fun to do,” Bleu says about his new role as a summer camp director tasked to stage the first-ever production of Frozen. But this guy has an ulterior motive: he wants to make a documentary about his experience.
“He's snarky and jaded, but he has an awesome arc. You get to see him being infused into this group after he comes in as the director of this documentary series that’s going to be airing on Disney+, and he comes in as the star that he is. Being around all these kids that embody the real meaning of theatre is such a reminder of where he came from. It is a roller coaster of emotions.”
The third season of HSMTMTS premiered July 27 and will consist of eight episodes, streaming Wednesdays on the Disney+ platform. The once-fresh face cast has accumulated a plethora of credits and projects under their names since kickstarting the series. Joshua Bassett has gone on to release two EPs and star in the Disney+ movie Better Nate Than Ever (written and directed by HSMTMTS creator Tim Federle) and Julia Lester is currently playing Little Red Riding Hood in the Broadway transfer of New York City Center Encores' Into the Woods. Additional returning cast members include Matt Cornett, Sofia Wylie, Dara Reneé, Frankie Rodriguez, and Saylor Bell Curda, with guest appearances from Kate Reinders, Olivia Rodrigo, Olivia Rose Keegan, Larry Saperstein, and Joe Serafini.
“Watching the series and then being able to be a part of it, there are so many things going on in my heart and in my brain," says Bleu. "For one, coming back to this world and seeing my name on my cast chair with the words High School Musical on it was just such a mind-screw, and then being able to watch these kids work…I watched them on television, but after being in the trenches with them and working with them on musical numbers, I just had an appreciation for them and I loved them. I tried to let them know.”
And what a perfect time to spread the love as showrunner Tim Federle says he amped up the “good old school drama" in this season. “There are definitely some difficult goodbyes this season, but there are also a lot of fun hellos,” he says, crediting the good vibes on set to ditching its East High setting. “Season two had its COVID challenges. We were in Salt Lake for a long time and had a lot of shutdowns. It felt like the cast really deserved a season where they got to like frolic under the sun.”
Lester, whose first on-screen leading role was in HSMTMTS, speaks to this experience. She says it has taught her to value the behind-the-scenes creatives and the show’s sharp script, which graciously honors the theatre community. “Over these last few years, I've really started to have an understanding and a great appreciation for every single tiny aspect that goes into making a TV show.”
She continues, “There are so many departments that may go unnoticed because they're not the cast that's onstage performing in that moment, but everything that you see has been so meticulously put together to create such a beautiful vision.”
Bleu echoes this appreciation and adds that the show doesn’t only honor the theatre community, but also the franchise’s original fans (many of which first discovered the joy of musical theatre through the Disney Channel Original movie). “They do a great job with having all the winks for the fans who grew up with High School Musical. They are able to make fun of it, which I think is so important, while also doing a great job upholding it.”