Compared with most of her co-stars, Kate Reinders faced an unusual challenge when she first auditioned for her role on Disney’s “High School Musical” reboot.
The Michigan-raised singer and actor was working on Broadway when the original “High School Musical,” starring Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens, debuted on the Disney Channel in 2006. So she didn’t have the same nostalgia for the film and its two sequels as those who were part of its core teen (and tween) viewership might have.
“I was aware of it [but] I wasn’t one of the kids growing up with it,” Reinders, whose Broadway credits include “Wicked,” “Something Rotten!” and “Beautiful,” told HuffPost. She soon understood, however, that “High School Musical” is “forever. It wasn’t just the kids growing up in that moment. All the kids since then have loved it, too.”
That devoted fanbase is one of several reasons Reinders jumped at the chance to join the cast of “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” now airing Fridays on Disney+. She plays Miss Jenn, a Broadway-vet-turned-drama-teacher who plans to mount a student production of “High School Musical” at the Salt Lake City high school where the original “High School Musical” was filmed. Talk about meta.
As Miss Jenn, Reinders gets to serve as a mentor to many of the show-within-a-show’s young cast, including Nini (played by Olivia Rodrigo), Ricky (Joshua Bassett) and Carlos (Frankie A. Rodriguez). Many aspects of the character, she said, resonated on a more personal level, too. In 2017, she and husband Andrew Samonsky became first-time parents to son Luke, now 2.
“I brought with it a newfound sense of maternal feeling,” she said. “It was very easy for me to love these kids both as her and as myself. I’m a newish mother, but I think what she’s realizing when she takes on this job is that there is a maternal side to her she didn’t realize was there.”
The role was a full-circle moment in another respect, too, as Reinders first met the show’s screenwriter and creator, Tim Federle, as Broadway co-stars in the 2003 revival of “Gypsy,” starring Bernadette Peters.
Even better: the new show maintains the original’s message of self-expression and acceptance, albeit with modern flourishes. (The Dec. 6 episode, “Homecoming,” introduced a same-sex romance for Carlos, the franchise’s first openly gay principal character.)
While its title has been a moot point, “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” premiered on Disney+ last month to critical acclaim. USA Today praised the series as “nostalgia done right,” while The New York Times hailed the cast as “bubbly and terrific.”
And the show, which has already been approved for a second season, has already allowed Reinders’ character to continue to widen, too. The show’s Dec. 6 episode, “Homecoming,” even hinted at a prospective love interest for Miss Jenn, otherwise perpetually single.
The role, as well as the stability of TV, have allowed Reinders to “live her dream,” which, as a working mom, she’s particularly grateful for.
“I think my heart cracking open as a mother has made me a better actress,” she said. “[Acting] is something I love to do and take very seriously, but I’ve realized it isn’t my entire life. So I appreciate it that much more.”