“High School Musical” Character Outed in Disney Stage Production

Ryan Evans, the High School Musical character that everybody thinks is gay, has officially been outed. No, not necessarily in High School Musical 3, the third entry of the popular Disney movie series currently being filmed for an October theatrical release. It’s in High School Musical on Tour!, a Disney-produced stage adaptation of the original movie currently touring the country.

Bobby List (“Ryan”) & Chandra Lee Schwartz perform in Disney’s High School Musical National Tour ©2007, Disney.

Photo credit: Joan Marcus

In the movie, Ryan dresses stylishly, is musically inclined, wears a different hat with every outfit, and, unlike all the other main characters, has no apparent love interest. As a result, many observers, including some here at AfterElton.com, have interpreted him as a “coded gay” character — a character that the creative team conceived of as gay, even if the movies never come out and say so directly. This ambiguity regarding the character’s sexuality was particularly ironic in light of the fact that the theme of the first movie, which has songs like “Breaking Free” and “We’re All in This Together,” is that everyone should be allowed to be exactly who they are. However, for the stage adaptation, out playwright David Simpatico chose to make Ryan’s gayness much more explicit. “I wanted to present Ryan as something from my own past, a version of me, I guess — though he’s a lot better dancer than I ever was!” David says. “In the movie, the character has a gay tint. But in the stage version, I wanted to more fully articulate that tint and say, hey, this kid is who he is. Yes, I consider him a young gay guy without ever having to say it. I’d rather say it with behavior and action. And we do.”

Playwright David Simpatico

Photo credit: Rolando Gori

Sure enough, Ryan’s locker in the stage version has pictures of men inside, not women like the other guys. And when the play’s leading hunk Troy Bolton (Zac Efron in the movies) brushes against Ryan at one point, the character literally swoons, leaving absolutely no doubt whom he finds attractive. On stage, the character also dresses even flashier than in the movies, gets some catty witticisms, and is played with a more flamboyant lilt. Disappointingly, Ryan still has no love interest, even though all of the other major characters, even the two adults, pair up with opposite sex partners by the show’s end. Another change Simpatico made to the stage adaptation is that it is Ryan, not Kelsi, who ultimately reveals Sharpay’s evil plot to the protagonists, basically saving the day. “I’m proud of the fact that in this Disney show, there is a strong gay character who actually becomes the hero of the piece,” Simpatico says. “And he provides representation for high school kids who might be gay or confused or bullied for being a theater guy. I love that there is a character in this show that I would have loved when I was in high school.” Indeed, the whole stage adaptation comes across as much more “gay” than the movie. There’s a terrifically hammy performance by Ellen Harvey as the theatre teacher, Ms. Darbus, and one of the jocks is particularly exuberant when he reveals his secret passion as a chef (as in the movie, the news is enthusiastically accepted by the rest of the school, as is his killer crème brûlée). “I guess the stage version comes off as a bit more gay [than the movie version] since I wrote it, and it came through my prism,” says Simpatico. “I’m a big gay boy from way back.” He says Disney let his “inner gay” run wild. “The Disney folk gave me a great opportunity to use other colors of my voice and to reach out and share what I love most in the world, which is live theater. And so I did, within the parameters of a family show. I have allusions to Mommie Dearest, Valley of the Dolls, just fun kinda insider campy stuff.” Meanwhile, the play includes an energetic cast that, while staying more or less true to the squeaky-clean, irony-free source material, doesn’t hesitate to camp it up. Watch for the hilarious and convincing transformation of the male cast members from basketball jocks in one scene to legwarmer-wearing theater geeks a few scenes later.

“Get’cha Head in the Game” from Disney’s High School Musical National Tour. ©2007, Disney.

Photo credit: Joan Marcus

“It’s safe to say that we are having a blast on stage,” says Dante Russo, a 26-year old actor who plays both a basketball player and a theater geek in the ensemble. “It’s such a high energy show that it would be impossible not to give it one hundred percent. In TV, a character knows when a camera is going to zoom in on him and what moments are going to be seen by the at-home audience. In live theatre, if you’re on that stage, you have to be ‘on’ at all times. You create backstories for your characters and really flesh it out.”

Dante Russo

Photo credit: Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

High School Musical on Tour! is different from High School Musical: The Concert, a touring production that featured cast members from the movie (and, for that matter, it’s also different from High School Musical: The Ice Tour, another touring production that is currently competing with the stage adaptation for the attention of the nation’s “tween” girls). The stage version, which is produced by Disney Theatrical Productions, was conceived almost immediately after the unexpected success of the first movie, which premiered on the Disney Channel in January 2006. Disney created two versions of the play, a shortened 70-minute version for middle schools and a full two-act version for high schools and professional companies. Atlanta’s Theatre of the Stars premiered the play not even a year after the movie first aired. Since then, there have been more than 1500 amateur productions. Lucas Grabeel has played the role of Ryan in both released movies, and will reprise the role in the upcoming theatrical release. Bobby List plays the role in the stage adaptation.

Lucas Grabeel

Photo credit: David Livingston / Getty Images

High School Musical on Tour! started its tour of 37 cities in July 2007 and will end in August. A separate U.K. tour began in January. More information, including the remaining tour dates, can be found at www.highschoolmusicalontour.com. AfterElton.com reader William F. suggested the topic for this article.