Start of something new: Wildcats take center stage in episode 11 of ‘High School Musical: The Musical: The Series’ 

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Weeks of superfluous drama and awkward “High School Musical” references have led us here: It is opening night of East High’s production of “Beauty and the Beast!” Episode eleven of the second season of “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” initiates the beginning of the end of East High’s spring musical, interspersed with enough chaos and cheesy pep talks to transport viewers back to their own high school experience. 

There may be twelve episodes in this season of “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” but considering how little the drama students have been in rehearsal, there is no telling how they are at all prepared for their upcoming performance. Yet, somehow the sets are pristine, the costumes are impeccable and the expansive theater is packed; if this season has taught us anything, it is that it is probably best to just suspend your disbelief every week. 

Despite an incessant focus on North High throughout this season of “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” viewers are, strangely enough, not introduced to its production of “Beauty and the Beast.” Yet, murmurs backstage shortly before East High’s opening night abound with praise for North High’s elaborate performances, placing pressure on the Wildcats that is exacerbated by the presence of a Menkies judge in the audience.

After last week’s mishap, Ricky (Joshua Bassett) and Ashlyn (Julia Lester) — the production’s leads — are bandaged up. But the show must go on; somehow a bedazzler and a passion for performance mask their pain and prepare them for the stage. Following pep talks from Miss Jenn (Kate Reinders) and sentimental cards from Nini (Olivia Rodrigo), it is time for the curtains to rise and for the Wildcats to set the stage. 

As the production begins and the stage lights beam upon the Wildcats, the scope of the production is finally revealed. Compared to the performance of “High School Musical” in season one, “Beauty and the Beast” is an obvious improvement. Somehow, well-choreographed numbers and entertaining performances make up the entirety of act one, including its grand finale — “Be Our Guest.” Was Miss Jenn’s idea to spotlight the Menkies judge during the performance a great idea? Absolutely not. But Kourtney’s (Dara Reneé) vocals, Carlos’ (Frankie Rodriguez) stage presence and Gina’s (Sofia Wylie) dance technique counteract this fault. Nini also reprises her role as a dancing fork — it really is “brutal out here.” If there’s one thing to look forward to in this episode, it is watching Rodrigo, one of Gen Z’s most beloved musical artists, pretend to be a utensil. 

Though the first act ends fabulously, Gina faces disappointment at intermission when she discovers her mother has not been at opening night. Yet to her surprise, her brother, Jamie (Jordan Fisher) has viewed her high kicks and pirouettes from the audience. The two reunite and seem to make up for lost time until Jamie admits he must leave the show early. Just before he retreats from East High, he speaks to E.J. (Matt Cornett) regarding his relationship with Gina. E.J. may have felt as if there was “something there” between him and Gina, but from Jamie’s perspective, their relationship should be purely platonic. 

What began as a successful night of high school musical theater quickly spirals into a nightmare when the Wildcats realize that Ricky’s harness is missing. Instead of adequately doing her job, an overwhelmed Miss Jenn flees the show, leaving Nini behind to pick up the pieces and find a way to complete the Beast’s transformation. Yet the final shot of the episode reveals that Ricky’s harness has been in the hands of North High’s leading actress, Lily (Olivia Rose Keegan), all along. 

The second-to-last episode of “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” has finally grounded the series in exploring the chaos of high school theater — the primary reason its first season garnered positive attention. With only one episode left in the season, it is unlikely that “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” will adequately tie together its messy narrative, but the series can certainly “be our guest” in attempting to depict the Wildcats’ final curtain call. 

Sarah Runyan covers television. Contact her at [email protected].