1. Olesya Rulin as Kelsi.
As a movie musical, High School Musical blows: popular jock meets beautiful brainiac; cringe-inducing production numbers and chaste life lessons ensue. But the musical within the musical rocks. Ostensibly composed by “sawed-off Sondheim” Kelsi Nielsen (Olyesa Rulin) — as the token theater geek, she looks like a pint-sized Amanda Palmer wearing Brian Viglione’s bowler — the two songs sung by Troy and Gabriella while auditioning for the high school’s winter musicale ring completely true. If the performances of “What I’ve Been Looking For” and “Breaking Free” stand out, it’s nothing compared to the real-life cattle call that yeilded Disney’s new franchise: “There were hundreds of us auditioning,” Vanessa Anne Hudgens told the Edmonton Sun. “The big callback elimination audtion lasted seven and a half hours. It was nerve-racking.” If the HSM songs had actually been written by a 15-year-old, that teenager would totally look like Kelsi. Also, even though she’s got all of, like, six lines, Rulin has a) the most rock and roll name of anyone in the film, and b) the best resume ever: her previous roles came in Halloweentown High, Mobsters and Mormons, and Vampire Chicks with Chainsaws.
2. It’s gay friendly?
In Disney’s don’t-ask-don’t-tell universe, nobody’s openly out of the closet. But a musical without a flamer is like a pizza without the cheese. So let’s talk about Ryan Evans: a flamboyant musical-theater enthusiast who sings duets with his sister and has a sissy fit fantasizing about Ashton Kutcher? Definitely homo. Ditto for the basketball player who bakes.
3. Instructions included.
Why wait for your film to become a cult singalong favorite when you can broadcast a karaoke-ready version on TV and double your ratings? In case you missed the sing-a-long version when Disney repeated it to an HSM-crazed cable audience, it’s included on the DVD — and so is an instructional video outlining Troy Bolton’s dance moves in the production numbers. (Arthur Murray-style floor charts are downloadable on the film’s web site.)
4. It finally places emo where it belongs: on Broadway. .
There’s nothing inherently wrong with emo. As slickly-prouced, professionally-written pop music forms go, it’s better than, y’know, disco. What gets annoying is when rich kids in Hot Topic gear perform it in basements while pretending to be punk. Revenge, however, is sweet. What will drive those fake-ass mallpunk kids crazy is that the best songs in High School Musical — which could be mistaken for Something Corporate outtakes — drag emo out of the closet as the sound of mainstream American songwriting, the kind that demands Busby Berkeley-eque dance routines on the Great White Way. Remember the image you got in your head the first time you heard Dashboard Confessional? This is like that, only brighter, cuter, and hooked up to an aspartame IV.
5. Three words: Ashley Tisdale’s boobs.
Obviously, Ashley’s the next Lindsay Lohan. Fake noodz flooding the internet in 5, 4, 3 . . .