High School Musical Casting Director Says Vanessa Hudgens Had A ‘Meltdown’ When Zac Efron Was Picked As Her Troy

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In January 2006 over on Disney Channel, 7.7 million viewers tuned into the world premiere of High School Musical, an original made-for-TV movie that became an important part of the fabric of many of our childhoods. Anyone else still able to break into the “We’re All In This Together” dance on command? It’s now been 15 years since the modern classic became part of our lives, so it’s time to reflect on where it all began for Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens.

High School Musical turned its cast into major stars overnight and became the "start of something new," especially for Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens, who continue to be highly sought-after actors in their thirties. The casting process for the Disney Channel original movie was apparently a grueling one – director Kenny Ortega said he treated auditions as if he was casting a Broadway musical.

And when it came to Troy and Gabriella, Efron and Hudgens had the “X” factor. According to the recollection of casting director Natalie Hart to Variety, a 17-year-old Vanessa Hudgens got seriously nervous around Zac Efron. In Hart’s words:

She was so smitten. She said, ‘He’s too cute. I can’t read with him.’ She had a meltdown. It’s easy to say in hindsight. But when they auditioned together, it was clear. It wasn’t even a close call. We saw the chemistry between them, and we were sold.

It really was in the stars, and the casting directors could see it from the moment they tested for the roles. The Disney Channel stars would, of course, pair up in real life and famously enjoy a romantic relationship for about five years, primarily in their High School Musical years. It’s a funny thing to hear again and again, but chemistry like theirs really did elevate the modern musical. When talking about casting Zac Efron specifically, Hart said this:

When we first met Zac, we felt he had the quality of what we’d call a matinee idol. He was stunning, but he wasn’t cocky, which isn’t something you’d find in young people. He had accessibility. We knew he had the capability of being a leading man.

The casting directors saw the sparkle in Zac Efron’s eyes that would turn him into a generation’s heartthrob, slapped on posters on bedroom walls all over the world. As the years have passed, Efron has starred in more movie musicals such as Hairspray and The Greatest Showman, but he’s also branched out with his jaw-dropping role as Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. There's also his recent reality travel show, Down to Earth with Zac Efron. But this is where it all began:

Vanessa Hudgens has also stayed close to her musical roots as of late, starring in Fox’s live production of Rent and soon starring in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut Tick, Tick… Boom!, which she recently finished up in New York during the pandemic.

The best way to celebrate 15 years of High School Musical is to watch a marathon of the trilogy, currently all available on Disney+, along with the service’s new series inspired by the phenomenon. You can sign up for a subscription using this link but, before you dig out your old Wildcat merch, where do you think Troy and Gabriella would be nowadays? Vote in the poll below!

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Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.