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REVIEW: Competition thrives in smart 'High School Musical," season 2

REVIEW: Competition thrives in smart 'High School Musical," season 2

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After you’ve staged a successful production of “High School Musical,” what do you do for an encore?

The kids at East High School are convinced it’ll be “High School Musical 2.” But Miss Jenn has different ideas – particularly when her ex-boyfriend comes back to direct the musical at rival North High School.

The drama? It’s in the relationships that could be hit – or miss.

In the second season of “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” creator Tim Federle doesn’t retrace old steps. Instead, he blazes a new trail – one that doesn’t depend on summer jobs or graduation fears.

In the new season, Miss Jenn (Kate Reinders) and her ex, Zack (Derek Hough) get a chance to show how lives can diverge and still be fulfilling. When Zack says he’s doing a big Disney musical at his school, Jenn figures she better corral one, too.

That means the students who thought they’d slip into Part Deux without any effort, now have to figure out who’s going to be silverware and who’s going to be “Beauty and the Beast.”

Considering this edition of “HSMTMTS” was shot during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s amazing how many complex dance numbers there are. The first episode moves more than the Rockettes at Christmas.

The holidays figure in, too, and then there’s the matter of Ricky (Joshua Bassett) and Nini (Olivia Rodrigo). She has an opportunity that will take her away from East High School – and their budding relationship. Does she take it? Or stay and hope to ring it as Belle?

While they’re still the show’s power couple, there’s room for others to take the lead and – to borrow another Disney signature – seize the day.

Gina (Sofia Wylie), Big Red (Larry Saperstein) and Carlos (Frankie Rodriguez) get their own spotlights, pushing this into a strong second act.

That rivalry between Zack and Jenn rears up in the oddest places. Hough plays it with plenty of arrogance, lighting a spark in Reinders that could be very interesting as the season wears on.

When Federle brings in the North High cast (also competing for the big “Menkie” award for school productions), “HSMTMTS” becomes much more complex than any of its predecessors. Even those first-season actors who looked like doubles for the original film’s cast have managed to find their own path. And when they step out and sing and dance? There’s no contest.

The Disney+ series revels in lampooning high school tropes. It jabs pop culture, too, and winds up smarter than most shows the characters lionize.

Saperstein and Wylie get fun moments that will make you wonder where they land in the big show. And, finally, Reinders isn’t just ringmaster but a featured act.

“HSMTMTS” may have the longest title of any series on television, but it earns each of its consonants.

The series begins streaming May 14 on Disney+.

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