Could the timing of High School Musical 2 be more perverse? The sequel to the out-of-left-field 2006 blockbuster offers an intoxicating valentine to the summer-vacation experience just as a significant portion of the target audience is on the verge of returning to scholastic drudgery. Picking up a few weeks after its predecessor ends, HSM2 finds the magnificently bitchy Sharpay Evans (Ashley Tisdale) looking to buy the affections of basketball stud Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) by landing him a summer job at her parents’ country club—and if he can help her win the annual talent show, all the better. The scheme backfires when virtually every character from the original movie is hired to work in the club’s kitchen, creating a rival faction that rallies around Sharpay’s ever-cheerful twin, Ryan (Lucas Grabeel).
All of the key creative players are back—director-choreographer Kenny Ortega, screenwriter Peter Barsocchini and composer David Lawrence, as well as the songwriting teams—and they’re keenly aware of what made the original HSM work. Troy’s bland beloved, Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens), is pushed to the sidelines so that Sharpay and Ryan, massive fan favorites, can get more screen time (a very good thing, since Tisdale is by far the most talented performer here), and the production numbers allow the cast to express the full depth of their enthusiasm for singing and dancing instead of using editing to cover for their shortcomings. Ryan trots out an even more prodigious array of hats, and the original’s debt to Grease is playfully acknowledged. Though the sequel has the same number of songs as its predecessor, it feels more densely packed with music. As a result, HSM2 may be a little exhausting by the end, but its boundless energy will nonetheless leave fans eager for part three.