“High School Musical”: Creating the Costuming Framework

High School Musical set piece

Disney’s “High School Musical” (the Musical) is the theatrical version of the highly successful 2006 Disney Original Movie by the same name.  The theatrical version runs pretty true to the movie, with the exception of the elimination of Troy’s mother, and the addition of Jack Scott, the narrator.  The general story is a combination of “Grease”, “Romeo & Juliet” and “West Side Story” all rolled up into one, tweaked a bit, and regurgitated out in Red & White Wildcat mania.

As with any musical based on a popular movie/character, you can fight the “status quo”, but, going with the flow is much easier, and more acceptable to your audience.  You would disappoint every little girl in the audience if Belle wore a green dress, and Elle Woods certainly wouldn’t wear orange, and thus, the East High Wildcats wear red and white.  With that (easy) decision, about half of your costuming choices are finished.

red & white wildcat theme

The story line of “HSM” takes place over a single five-day school week.  Unless you choose to do something retro, you can use contemporary clothing–and likely pull from the closets of your cast members.  The musical is set in the southwest United States right after winter break.  I made a point to avoid heavy sweaters, our school colors (black and gold) and any reference to local colleges.  Not that there couldn’t be Iowa and Iowa State fans in Albuquerque . . . but . . . we didn’t want to jerk anyone back to the Midwest.

Your main groups include:

Cheerleaders:  This is pretty easy–red and white cheer outfits. This group can easily wear the same costume throughout the entire show.  You could add in an alternative top, or practice gear like shorts or pants.  However, after the TV show “Glee”, the idea of cheerleaders wearing their uniforms all-day-every-day is unremarkable.

Jocks:  The Jocks include your main character (Troy), his BFF’s Chad, Zeke, & Jason, and then however many other basketball players you have.  In the movie, they wear red uniforms for practice and white for the big game at the end–so, buy some reversible jerseys and shorts.  They will also need either school clothes or warm-ups.

Thespians:  The Thespians are the drama kids.  This includes the main characters of Sharpay & Ryan.  There also is a group of named characters:  James, Susan, Cathy, Alan, Cyndra and “Performance Arts” Kids.  These minor characters basically have a single singing line in an audition scene, and a stereotype to portray, which can be helped along with a little costuming if you desire.  I’ll talk about Sharpay & Ryan a bit later.

Braniancs:  The Brainiacs are the smart kids, and participate in a science decathlon.  They include the main character Taylor, and her sidekicks Martha and Kratnoff.  Your lead female role (Gabriella) associates with this group.  Think of these characters as your typical nerds.

Skater Dudes:  This is a small group, and has a cameo appearance in the song “Status Quo”.  Ripper is the soloist, with lines by Mongo.

(My cast was small enough that everyone was divided up into these groups.  With a larger group, you might have “generic high school kids”).


Gabriella Montez:  Gabriella is the main female role, described as “a shy beauty) (script, pg 3)  She is a  new student at East High, and, having been mocked for her intelligence at her old school, wants to be a part of the wallpaper at her new school.  How often do you have a female lead that is supposed to be dressed in a nondescript, “don’t-look-at-me” fashion?  Gabriella is torn between wanting to be a fly on the wall and wanting to recreate the magic she had with Troy when they met New Year’s Eve.  She struggles to figure out who she is, and where she fits with Troy (the Jock).   She and Troy sing their duet “Breaking Free” in a joyous, big-dance number fashion.

Troy Bolton:  Troy is your typical basketball jock, except, he enjoyed singing with Gabrielle, and finds out he wants to be more than “just a basketball guy”.

Coach:  The Coach is also Troy’s Dad.  He wears “coach clothes”.  He probably needs something for the weekdays, and then something more formal for the “big game” at the end.

Sharpay & Ryan:  Sharpay is the twin of Ryan.  They are described as “fraternal twins, fashion plates” (script pg 2).  Sharpay and Ryan appear in every school day.  They require special outfits for their pairs audition, and for the “Bop to the Top” dance.  Sharpay also takes a cake to the face, and has some quick changes.  In the movie, Ryan typically wears a hat, often a fedora or newsboy had, in various colors and patterns.  Their costumes should coordinate.

Kelsi Neilson:  “a nerdy, klutzy composer” (pg 3).  In the movie, Kelsi is known for her newsboy hats.

Ms. Darbus:  Ms. Darbus, the drama teacher, is “eccentric, to say the least” (pg. 9).  She has a quick change between Monday & Tuesday.  Her Thursday appearance is (likely) only a head shot.

Jack Scott:  Jack is described as the “nerdy school announcer” (pg 1).  He appears at great frequency through-out the show, providing transition between the various days and events.  Jack could be played in many ways, and so a discussion with your cast member on how they see the role might be helpful.  Jack may often be cast as “Jackie” for a female role.  It also is good to talk with your set person to see what the radio booth will look like and how much of this character will be visible.

Other considerations:

“A OLD CRAB MUG”:  You will need shirts with these letters spelled out on them, and jackets to go over the top.  **Make note that on page 69 the script says “the message spells out:  OLD CRAB MUG”.  However, you’ll note that only has one “A”, so it really needs to say “A OLD CRAB MUG”.

A Old Crab Mug

Classroom scenes:  There are multiple classroom scenes in this show.  Depending on your Director and Set Designer, you may or may not know how many extra cast members will be in each of these scenes until quite late in the game.  I found this to be one of the most frustrating aspects of this show.

Act I, scene 2:  Darbus Homeroom (Monday)

Act 1, scene 5:  Chemistry lab (Monday)  (requires white labs coats)

Act 1, scene 6:  Theater, detention (Monday)

Act 1, scene 7:  Theater, audition (Tuesday)

Act II, scene 3:  Study Hall (Wednesday)

Act II, scene 9:  Study Hall (Thursday)

The large ensemble scenes include:

Opener (“Wildcat Cheer”/”Start of Something New”)

Lunchroom (“Stick to the Status Quo”):  Be sure to talk with your Director/Choreographer about how this scene will work.  I was costuming 4-5 “tables” of kids, and then found out there would be three.  My choreographer was also inconsistent in the cast members cliche, so I had cast members unexpectedly crossing groups.  Since Zeke and Troy were standing on the tables, I had two fill-in boys dancing with the cheerleaders–which created an unanticipated costume need.

Finale (“Breaking Free” & “We’re All in This Together”)

Quick Changes and other good stuff to consider:

  1.  If your NYE MC is a person, and needs to be back for “Start of Something New” this is a quick change
  2. Troy:  Scene 3 into Scene 4–he needs to change from school clothes into his BB outfit
  3. Darbus:  Scene 6 into Scene 7–she needs to change clothes from Monday into Tuesday
  4. Sharpay:  Scene 8 into Scene 9:  Scene 8 is Tuesday night, and scene 9 is Wednesday lunchroom for “Status Quo”.  In the script, it indicates that Sharpay & Ryan do not re-enter for 3.5 pages of script/singing, however, in the movie they are in the cafeteria watching, and my Director had them come immediately into this scene.
  5. Sharpay: At the end of “Status Quo” Sharpay takes a cake to the face.  She then has intermission and a song to clean up, HOWEVER, she needs to appear in scene 2 “still covered in cake” (pg 55), and after selecting a new blouse from her locker, she walk off-stage and IMMEDIATELY has to take position at a table in Scene 3 (study hall).cake to the face
  6. Sharpay & Ryan:  In Act 2, scene 9 they walk across the stage in front of the study hall kids.  They have 3 pages of dialog/singing to change into the “Bop to the Top” outfits.  There should be plenty of time, but, one of my characters had difficulties.
  7. Thursday into Friday:  At the end of the show, Thursday study hall melds and morphs into Friday with just the words “Transition to the next day”.  In addition, you probably will have Brainiacs and Jocks who “magically” need to have their “A OLD CRAB MUG” shirts on, and then into their Friday clothes. You will need to have a conversation with the Director and Set Designer to figure out exactly how this is going to happen, and when/if your cast members get off-stage, and/or have a black-out.  This requires some pre-planning and stacking of costumes.  Plan to start rehearsing this early.
  8. Finale:  if you want the finale (Scene 11) to be in all red and white, you will need to plan a fast change for any affected cast members (for me Gabby & Darbus). Ryan & Sharpay have “Breaking Free”, and I had everyone else prepped in red & white for “Breaking Free”/Friday.

Small Ensembles:

I like to color coordinate my cast members in various scenes.  Specific scenes to look for:

  1.  Act 1, Scene 1:  Sharpay, Taylor and Gabriella (likely) all stand together and represent different groups . . .they need to coordinate, and yet, look different.
  2. Act 1, Scene 2:  Darbus homeroom–depending on the number of kids, may need to coordinate colors (these kids likely also repeat in detention, otherwise, note that scene)
  3. Act 1, Scene 7:  Audition scene (larger ensemble in the beginning) then at the end (pg 40–Troy & Gabriella at the piano, with Kelsi & Ms. Darbusimg_4565.jpg
  4. Act 1, Scene 9:  Large ensemble Cafeteria scene–consider groups/tables if you can.  I had the “Brainiacs”, “Jocks” and then “Thespians/Skaters/Goth girls aka misfits”.  We tried to make this as stereotypical as possible.
  5. Act 2, Scene 10:  Bop to the Top . . .  in this scene, the stage is divided into three, one side is the basketball game (in uniforms), in the center is the “Bop to the Top”, and on the other side is the Science Decathlon (in white lab coats).  Consider coordinating Ms. Darbus with Sharpay and Ryan in the center.

You may also have some additional groups and or characters including personifications of the voice overs (NYE MC, Ms. Tenney & Moderator) and a marching band for the opening sequence.  The script also indicates “party kids” at the NYE parts–which could be costumed as a group depending on the staging and your Director/Choreographer, and “fans”  and “spectators” (pg 90).  Also, if you have staged “Breaking Free” so that the cast is sitting in the front rows of the theater, make sure the person selling tickets knows that, and the seats are marked off.

I am sure there are things I have forgotten or overlooked, but this is a snapshot into how I began, and the things I learned along the way.   I’ll follow up with some more posts describing the individual characters and groups, including discussing how to handle the cake-in-the-face–with no less than a “seven-layer coconut cake” (pg 49).







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