High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, an original series on Disney+, is nearing the end of its first season with Episode 9, “Opening Night.” The episode’s cold open shows arrogant cousin-abuser and senior who would do anything to play Troy, EJ (Matt Cornett) wearing the Troy jersey and ready to get on stage. Then, the episode jumps back 8 hours to earlier that day. The students of East High are preparing for their curtain call while the complications of the show’s many relationships grow ever more complex.
The very best thing about HSMTMTS, to me, has always been the way the show simultaneously depicts very real high school relationships while also having characters that generally express their feelings in much healthier ways than in typical teenage-romcom shows. “Opening Night” somehow manages to put on its best and worst displays of relationships yet.
In the healthy category, we have our main characters, Ricky (Joshua Bassett) and Nini (Olivia Rodrigo) talking to their best friends, Big Red (Larry Saperstein), and Kourtney (Dara Renee) about what’s been going on in their heads with regards to one another. It’s a really positive depiction, in that everyone is being pretty honest about their feelings and their feelings are being respected. It’s realistic to high school because the conversations end up short of getting into any real depth and the support the friends give isn’t necessarily the greatest. Their miscommunicating in this episode is annoying at first, but totally realistic and paid off by the end of the episode.
In the category of annoyingly tropey, the total lack of awareness Big Red has towards Ashlyn’s (Julia Lester) flirtation is a bit trite. Yet, it is still perfectly high school-esque. I’m totally rooting for them, especially since both characters have really gotten chances to blossom as individuals and not just extensions of EJ and Ricky’s personalities. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if the show decides to continue Big Red’s ignorance in the finale and chalks it up to a theater romance by season 2. It would be pretty realistic to the high school theater experience, I would just be super disappointed.
My biggest hiccup though, when it comes to relationships in this episode is that between Ricky and Gina (Sofia Wylie). I’ve come to really love Gina, and Ricky for that matter, and truly every character except for the irredeemable EJ who I wish could graduate early and not be in Season 2. I just do not understand what the show is trying to say about their relationship. In previous episodes, it seemed like Ricky was developing a crush and maybe Gina was reciprocating if you squinted hard enough. In “Opening Night,” it seems like Ricky is in full crush mode when Gina makes a surprise return, given his being flabbergasted and seeming almost upset that she’s back now that he and Nini are nearly back together.
Plus, does she feel the same way? Does he even feel that way? It would be a huge tick in my tropey-but-fair-enough category since it is an unhealthy depiction of romance but certainly one that you would expect from high schoolers. Yes, it’s totally realistic for a boy to instantly develop a crush on somebody who is being nice to him and who he spends a lot of time with and for her to never realize he’s feeling that way while she just thinks they’re good friends. But, in a show that normally does so well depicting boundaries, emotional maturity, and the difference between romance and connection, it would be a shame to normalize that type of behavior from Ricky when it’s antithetical to everything else we’ve seen from him.
Maybe we’ll get lucky and Gina will point all of that out to Ricky, Nini will get upset about it (righteously), and Ricky will have to spend Season 2 contemplating the difference between romance and connection. One can only hope.
The rest of what goes down in Opening Night is great. Kourtney’s opportunity to shine replacing Gina is awesome, and the fact that she willingly gives the role back to Gina when she shows up on stage is even more awesome. I appreciate that Gina went from being a bad guy most everyone there resented to being everyone’s friend since she stopped vying for Nini’s role.
The bits with Mr. Mazarra (Mark St. Cyr) and Miss Jenn (Kate Reinders) are also great as usual. Again, their relationship is a prime example of a healthy one. They’re friends of opposite sexes who have no romantic entanglement in an otherwise romance-heavy show. Their bits are also great paired next to Miss Jenn’s interaction with Ricky’s dad (Alex Quijano). Their awkwardness is cute and not too much, compared to the bologna Ricky’s mom puts Ricky through.
“Opening Night’s” conclusion ends up being quite solid. Ricky gives up the role of Troy not just because he sees his mom in the audience with her new boyfriend, but because he finds out that Nini is extremely nervous now that the dean is in the audience from the fancy performing arts school she Kourtney reached out to for her last episode. His concern for her is so deeply felt in that moment, cementing my hope that they do get back together in the finale, despite by speculation above.
Of course, the music in “Opening Night” is great as always too. I particularly appreciate that we have gotten to see several full performances of scenes in their show. I was worried we would never get to, and the way that they are seamlessly incorporated into the goings-on of the episode is fantastic. Especially when it lets so many characters, including Seb (Joe Serafini) as Sharpay shine. My one deep concern though, is why are the pit members standing the whole time? As a former member of many pit bands, I would die if I had to stand for an entire show. There’s no reason they can’t be sitting and this feels like both a weird oversight and an attack.
Overall, despite some concerns about the direction of a few character arcs and relationships, “Opening Night” is a swell penultimate episode. How I feel about it will be made or broken by how the season finale plays out, but for now, I absolutely appreciate it as a great bridge to the final act and a standalone episode.
High School Musical: The Musical: The Series is streaming now on Disney+.
‘High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,' Episode 9 – "Opening Night"
Despite some concerns about the direction of a few character arcs and relationships, “Opening Night” is a swell penultimate episode. How I feel about it will be made or broken by how the season finale plays out, but for now, I absolutely appreciate it as a great bridge to the final act and a standalone episode.