[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the Season 1 finale of High School Musical: The Musical: The Finale. Read at your own risk!]
The East High theater troupe in High School Musical: The Musical: The Series managed to pull off the big show! The Season 1 finale, which premiered Friday on Disney+, saw the successful conclusion of the crew's production of High School Musical, complete with a "We're All in This Together" curtain call. The final episode also came with romantic reunions and a big cliffhanger that will leave people clamoring for answers until Season 2.
After a season of rollercoaster tension, Nini (Olivia Rodrigo) and Ricky (Joshua Bassett) finally admitted that they are still in love with each other and the confession culminated in a post-show romantic kiss. The finale also revealed the possibility that Gina (Sofia Wylie) could end up staying in Salt Lake City for the rest of sophomore year if Ashlyn's (Julia Lester) cryptic plan to keep her in town comes to fruition.
However, the happiness of a possible Gina comeback and Nini and Ricky's romantic union was cut short when Nini found out that she had been accepted to a performing arts school in Denver that could kickstart her acting career. That was the jaw-dropping cliffhanger that fans will be left with until the show returns for Season 2 later in 2020.
The good news is that TV Guide hopped on the phone with High School Musical: The Musical: The Series executive producer Tim Federle to talk about that cliffhanger, Gina's return, and what the musical could be for Season 2.
When did you guys decide that you were going to end the season on the cliffhanger? That's risky.
Tim Federle: Especially when we didn't have a Season 2 greenlit? Yeah. I think there's a cliffhanger element and I also think there's some resolution. ... I don't need to tell you that it's a really crowded time to be telling stories in the TV space. So I hope that having this show on a streaming platform means a lot of people will discover it before Season 2 premieres in addition to the rapid stans who I hear from every day on Twitter. It's fun to hook people in, and what I never want to do is manipulate the audience and not pay things off. So I promise all things will be revealed when they hopefully tune in for Season 2.
Did you always know that it was going to be Ricky and Nini at the end of Season 1 or is that something that developed as you saw the chemistry between the characters while you guys were filming?
Federle: A little bit of both. I always felt like the big lesson Ricky had to learn was that he needed to read the room and take a step back. Ultimately, I think I wanted to see theater do for him what it does for so many of us as young people, which is be the place where he can find himself, and for Nini to be surprised by this leading man off stage becoming a true leading man on stage. That's what I think Josh and Olivia captured so beautifully in their song, "Just for a Moment." I used to do a lot of theater myself and there's a reason it's called a showmance, because you'd go out of town for six weeks and you'd do a musical in Pittsburgh, [then] all of a sudden you're in love with your co-star because eight shows a week you're kissing them. I think that that is among the many things Ricky and Nini have to figure out going forward, which is, was that just a moment or can we hang onto it and keep building to it?
Do you think that Nini getting into this school could be comparable to Joey getting that trip to Paris at the end of the first season of Dawson's Creek?
Federle: Yes, I love that comparison and you should run with it. I don't think that was a conscious choice, but I think that both TV stories, and also frankly high school stories, are often marked by moments of incredible change, whether it's moving away, or the first time a grandparent dies, or some huge part of your identity coming to the surface — as it does for Seb (Joe Serafini) playing Sharpay. I think Nini getting into the school is a natural extension of an ambitious girl who is starting to trust her own voice and starting to be noticed by people who are outside the immediate sphere of her Salt Lake City life.
We get a little bit of hope in this episode that Gina might be able to stick around. Can you confirm, yes or no: will have Gina in Season 2?
Federle: What I can confirm is that it's hard for me to imagine doing this show without Sofia [Wylie], who I think is such a bright, shining star of a human. I think it won't always go the way people expect it to, but I'm writing Season 2 now and I can confirm that the word Gina appears on the pages of some of these scripts.
What musical can we expect for Season 2?
Federle: You're the only outlet that I'm going to tell what it's not. I can confirm today we're not doing Cats. It's a huge announcement for those who follow me because I am obsessed with Cats. I grew up watching Cats. That's the first Broadway show I ever saw on tour. There's a lot of fun we could have with Carlos as Mr.Mistoffelees, and yet, we are not doing Cats. Beyond that, I will get in trouble if I say too much more.
You let this young cast have a chance to write their own songs in this first season. Can you talk about who we might see get songwriting credits in Season 2?
Federle: We got so many earworms this season that I ended up being so proud of that I'm hoping a lot of those composers will return to us. I think that it doesn't take a huge leap of faith to imagine that Joshua and Olivia could potentially continue to write for us at this point. Nothing's really firm because I'm still in the clay stage of just creating what Season 2 is going to be. As anybody who follows the news about just how big, and frankly challenging TV musicals are, you're up against so many production demands and deadlines on any TV show, let alone one in which people are singing live that I always have to just consider everybody's overall mental health and wellbeing with how much I'm asking them to manage. That's a long way of saying I think those two are really excellent songwriters and I hope there's an opportunity in the future for my entire cast to continue to creatively bring everything they dream about to the show.
Was there anything that you guys didn't get a chance to do in Season 1 that you are hoping that you can pull off in Season 2?
Federle: I have a yearning to see certain stories that take us a little further outside of East High and the East High drama department. I would also say the show was pitched, and I think produced and delivered, to capitalize on a promise I made to the network — which is we're going to start in a really grounded place, because there's a lot shows and a lot of musicals that are going to have people bursting into song on the quad of the school as the very first number. I wanted to trust that the quiet talents of these cast members would resonate and I was excited to see they did. With that said, I'd like to see like a big honking dance number early in the season. I'm hoping we can launch Season 2 with the promise of a gigantic amount of musical energy and school spirit for a viewing population that I think is desperately going to need an escape when the show comes out.
One of the great surprises this season was Ashlyn and Big Red's relationship, which was kind of like a tag at the end of this season finale. Can you talk about what might be in the future for those two?
Federle: I love seeing them get shipped. I can't get into plot details cause they haven't been written yet, [but] what I can say is I think Julia and Larry ,who are both dyed in the wool theater kids, who grew up truly in theater families... they bring such authenticity to these characters that any excuse I've got to put them on screen together is something I'm going to run with and I think readers of TV Guide can do with that what they want.
What are you most proud of when it comes to this first season of a show?
Federle: What I'm proud of is, despite the fact that I grew up as most people in the world do, not being able to escape the incredible Disney presence in the space of family programming, I'm proudest of the fact that I said, "Nini is going to have two moms. Seb is going to play Sharpay. Ricky's mom is not going to be great and, in fact, she's going to walk out on the family and make a huge mistake on opening night." And all I ever got back from Disney was, "We love it, give us more." I think it's a huge testament to Bob Iger's vision as a huge leader in our industry. [I am also] so proud of the fact that the show got a GLADD Media nomination. When I see that the show is listed alongside Andi Mack — and I know that without Terri Minsky pushing the envelope in the very best, healthiest way with the stories on Andi Mack, I would not have had an opportunity with my show.
What I'm proudest of is, of course, the cast rising to the occasion every time. If we had not been walked so confidently into that soundstage to tell those stories by Disney, we would have made just another predictable show that you could have seen coming a mile away. Instead, I think we got to make something a little bit special, and that's because I had bosses who trusted me.
High School Musical: The Musical: The Series will return for Season 2 on Disney+.