After months of anticipation, High School Musical 3 has finally hit theaters nationwide and is expected to rack up some big numbers in the days and weeks to come.
And while the franchise's characters have grown up and are blasting on to the big screen for the first time, High School Musical remains family-friendly, keeping away the violence and smut that often appears in media geared toward youth today.
Its wholesomeness and familiar characters, according to one of the movie's stars, are part of the highly successful formula that has drawn millions and created a sensation that very few saw coming.
"It really is the American dream for all of us," says KayCee Stroh, who plays smart girl Martha Cox in all three High School Musical installments.
"We were all shocked with how well it (High School Musical) did," she adds.
In an interview with The Christian Post, Stroh shared the initial feelings she had when she first joined "the little movie that could" and offered her take on how the franchise became such a smash.
The following is an edited transcript of the interview:
CP: In your own personal opinion, what made High School Musical (HSM) the sensation that it is today?
Stroh: Well, I think there're two reasons why HSM has been such a phenomenon. And I think it's because, first of all, our characters are very relatable. There's one of us in every school. And not only can the kids relate but every parent can go back to their high school days and be like, 'Oh, I remember a girl in my school that was so much like her, or a guy that was so much like him. I think it's fun and kids have long been waiting for characters that they can actually relate to and learn from.
And I think the second reason is that this generation is on overload of violence and drugs. And everything on TV is so negative. And I think this generation was ready for a little bit of positivity, and to use their imaginations again, and to have that happy-go-lucky story in their life. So I think the combination of the two really made it a great success.
CP: Building on that last comment, what is your take on the "overload of violence and drugs" that is prevalent in entertainment today?
Stroh: Truthfully, I'm kind of sad about it. I understand that the point of acting is to have it true to life. And there are [negative] things going on more often in our lives. However, I don't think that's the only thing that's going on in our lives. And I'm saddened that we seem to only portray those negative things that are going on.
We need to be more careful what we set our children in front of.
(spoiler warning: Next question discusses a scene in HSM3. Click here to skip.)
CP: While HSM has been touted for being a lot more wholesome than many other films and programs out there today, there is a perhaps-longer-than-necessary kissing scene in HSM3 that some conservatives may not be comfortable with seeing in the movie. What are your feelings on that particular scene?
Stroh: [Laughs] Well, I think that with the third movie, Disney's smart. They realized that their fan base has grown along with us. I think, overall, this process has been about four years, so the boys and girls that were 14 or 15 that enjoyed it are now 17 or 18. And I think they're trying to still be a movie that is relatable. And I think obviously when you're a senior in high school, it is appropriate. At that time, you've probably had a boyfriend or girlfriend or have been dating someone, and a kiss is not so over the top. So in a way, yes, I think we're safe because our fan base has grown up a lot and I'm comfortable with it. Compared to the other things that are out there … thank goodness, it's amazing that it's just a kiss compared to the other things that are on TV. So I'm good with it. And I think it's appropriate enough that the really little fans aren't going to feel too uncomfortable.
CP: Aside from moving over to the big screen and all the changes that comes with that, what do you think distinguishes HSM3 from the first two movies?
Stroh: Well, with HSM3 obviously because it's going to the big screen we had a bigger budget and things like that, and I felt we could finally give it the credit it deserved. We wanted to use a lot of fantasy sequences and use a lot of fun props and so I think overall it just made it a bigger and better movie. And it could just really fulfill those old fashioned Hollywood musical ideals that we wanted to create where it was a little tougher to do with a small budget and with a television movie. I think the dance numbers and songs will just blow everyone away.
CP: What were your initial feelings and thoughts when you first joined the High School Musical team? What did you think about the movie and what kind of reach it would have?
Stroh: Well, first of all, I have to say that we were shocked with how well it did. Never in a million years would I have suspected that it would have blown up the way that it did. I remember looking back on it and thinking, 'Yeah, this is cute.' 'It's really cute and kind of cheesy, but it's such a good feeling to have that these days.' So overall, I looked back on it and said 'Well, this is a project I can really be proud of. It's very appropriate. I'm proud that parents can sit their kids in front of the TV and walk away.' That was my overall initial reaction with the first one.
Now, by the third, I'm incredibly honored and proud of this little movie that could – that's what I was told, the little movie that could – this little film that was filmed in Salt Lake City, Utah, with hardly any budget and a whole mess of local actors and other actors.
I just think, what an amazing situation. It really is the American dream for all of us.
CP: Honestly speaking, which installment of the HSM franchise was your favorite?
Stroh: I would say my favorite to film was HSM2. Because I'm originally from Salt Lake City, Utah, whenever we're filming there, it's fun for me but I have to juggle other things and my family's there and I like to visit them.
With HSM2, most of it was in St. George, Utah, so all of us were away from home and we all lived right next to each other. So that was very fun and we bonded a lot. We'd go play after a hard day's work. So to film, I'd say HSM2, but overall to watch, absolutely HSM3. It finally gets the credit it deserves and to be seen on the big screen with fun numbers like that is really what it's truly deserved all along.
CP: Lastly, what kind of impact do you foresee the HSM franchise having further down the road?
Stroh: Well, my hope for the HSM franchise is that it will forever be that classic, like my generation we had 'Grease' and 'Newsies.'
I hope that it will be that go-to movie that everyone knows about and everyone's seen. You say the word 'Grease' in any household and I'd say 90 to 95 percent of people have seen that no matter how old that is. It's a classic. I hope for that.
KayCee Stroh, 24, appears in all three installments of High School Musical as a very smart girl named Martha Cox, who secretly loved to "pop and rock and jam and break." She also has a recurring role in the Disney Channel Original Series, "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody" as Leslie. On May 24, 2008, Stroh announced to People magazine that boyfriend Ben Higginson, a production company owner, proposed to her earlier in the day while filming High School Musical 3. They are planning an early 2009 wedding.