In anticipation of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, Teenplicity will be posting exclusive interviews with the cast of the show leading up to its premiere on Disney+ Tuesday, November 12th. Each cast member provided exclusive stories and fun moments from their time on set.
Check out what Dara Reneé has to say below!
It is hard to imagine a person more excited to be walking the halls of East High than Dara Reneé. Her bubbly and enthusiastic personality shines when the topic of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series comes up. A superfan of the original films that spawned the series, every step of this journey has been like a dream come true in more ways than one.
A big High School Musical fan growing up, the actress even found herself a little flustered on stage at the D23 Expo as Corbin Bleu, original HSM cast member, hosted the panel with the show’s cast.
“Oh my gosh! That’s my husband! – not my real husband but that’s like my childhood boyfriend! Ugh!” she says with a laugh as she recalls the moment of interacting with him during the convention’s presentation. As Teenplicity brings up his Disney Channel Original Movie Jump In!, Dara gushes with another laugh, “He was so fine! It was like, you better jump that rope!”
Getting to share the stage with her childhood crush was likely an additional treat on an otherwise nerve-wrecking, but well-anticipated, day. To kick off High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, or HSMTMTS which the cast makes it look easy to say, a thrilling performance to “We’re All in this Together” was executed by the show’s cast.
I couldn’t even express – I can’t even express now how grateful I am; I’m still in shock that this is all happening right now.
“I was so nervous!” Dara says of the experience. “I was like, ‘Lord, please let me hit this note!’” That wasn’t the only thought in her mind.
“I was like, ‘How am I going to dance and sing?! I’m sweating and out of breath! I just had a doughnut!’” she laughs as she reenacts all that was going through her head during the hectic day. While she wondered how they were going to accomplish this feat, she says, still a bit overwhelmed, “We did it!”
“I guess I was most scared about the performance because I was scared that I was just going to freeze up because when I get nervous, I start to shake. I was like, ‘Dara, if you start to shake during this performance, girl, it’s over!’” She remembers hoping and wishing that wouldn’t happen. Instead, the energy from the crowd helped her through it. “I was just so excited to see everyone who loves Disney. I really love seeing people like me because, literally, I am a Disney fanatic. Like, I’m obsessed,” she admits happily. “It was like I was with my people!” The grin is palpable in Dara’s voice as she gives an example of how it felt being with the crowds at D23. “I was like, ‘Hey, y’all!’ and they were like, ‘Hey, girl! What’s up!”
The show, which focuses on a fictional group of students putting on High School Musical as part of their theater club at the very real East High, received a warm and enthusiastic welcome at D23 and transpired across social media. The fandom is a mix of fans from the original film series and new fans of the show and it is making its prominent presence known, the thought of which elicits an excited scream from Dara. While those at D23 got the first glance at the series and an introduction to Kourtney, there’s still been a lot of joyous anticipation building behind her.
“Well, Miss Kourtney is – she is just fabulous, I love her,” the actress immediately starts gushing about her character. It’s nothing short of what one will expect as Kourtney quickly becomes a character that you can’t help but love and want more of. “She’s a diva, she’s a fashionista. She’s a feminist, she speaks her mind, and she stands up for what she believes,” continues Dara. “But she also has those moments where you really see that everyone struggles and everyone has those insecurities.” That doesn’t stop her character from doing her best for those she cares about. “[Kourtney] loves to look out for the people that she loves. I really appreciate that.”
It is hard believe that viewers were originally only supposed to see Kourtney for one episode, and that Dara had a lengthy audition process to get there. “Oh my gosh, when I tell y’all,” she says with a laugh.
“Funny story, I auditioned for the open call back in 2015. I had come from Baltimore and I was just like, ‘You know what? I just got a feeling! I need to be in the High School Musical franchise! I need to be in it!’ I just went and I got a callback and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I feel like I’m gonna be in it!’ And then nothing happened for years,” she reveals, the humor clear in her voice as she tries not to let her laughter take over.
Going on, she says, “They eventually sent over this audition and at first it was for Ashlyn! I read a little bit of the script and was like, ‘Yo, this is a hit! I don’t even gotta be in it and it’s going to be a hit!’ So I went for Ashlyn and I could tell it just…” Dara mimics an uncertain sound before adding a no, finding more hilarity in the situation as she goes through the steps to get where she is now. ‘Then I went for Gina and they were like, ‘Mmmm… No.’ I was like, ‘I feel it, I know, I know.’” She giggles through her grin.
Much like goldilocks finds the perfect fit after trying a few other options, the perfect role for Dara came through by chance.
“Eventually they had me read Kourtney and it was so funny because they didn’t really have a script for Kourtney because they weren’t really auditioning her while they were auditioning for the series regulars. She was going to be after they found everybody, then they were going to find Kourtney. So the script was still being written as I was auditioning and I read it and I added my own twist,” she says, and one can just imagine the proud smile on her face as Dara infusing her own aspects to the character is what makes Kourtney already so lovable.
“It was funny because I met Olivia at a party previously,” says the actress, citing it as possibly at a Freeform party during the time of her Freaky Friday promo. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this girl is just so sweet, so talented! – I love her so much!’ But I couldn’t tell her all that because I didn’t want to appear crazy or nothing ‘cause I just met her!” she confesses with a chuckle. Dara remembers auditioning with Olivia and it being so much fun. “‘I really love Kourtney. Even if I only do one episode, I’m just happy to just be a part of this new journey that they’re about to take,’” she says of what was going through her mind during the beginning of this adventure.
I just really think that girls need to see a diverse group of people. Not everyone looks the same and that’s okay.
“I do [the audition] and then I’m only expecting to do one episode and I get the call and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I got it! Yay! I get to do the one episode!’” she reenacts, her voice getting slightly higher as she mixes in some of the hype she had during the call. “And they’re like, ‘No no no no no, we want you for a series regular!’ And I just started busting out crying!” The excitement from that day has fully taken over, even as she pretends to sob as she repeats her words during the call. “‘Oh my gosh, thank you so much!’ I couldn’t even express – I can’t even express now how grateful I am; I’m still in shock that this is all happening right now.”
Through Dara’s continued awe and disbelief, she can’t help but express her gratitude to those who helped her along the way. “I just want to thank everyone who even let me audition. I know how hard it is to even be able to audition so even just to say a line or two, I’m just so grateful for that.”
During the first episode of the series, Kourtney is introduced as Nini’s best friend, though it’s clear that both are comfortable interacting with other social circles outside of each other (a refreshing change to what is usually seen on television). The deep connection between the two on-screen BFFs is attributed to the friendship that’s developed off-screen between the starlets.
“I feel like me and Olivia, as soon as we met each other, we were like, ‘Oo girl, what’s up!’ ‘Ooo girl, what’s up!’ We kind of clicked!” This link makes it easy for Dara to act out the scenes on the page. “Even though those lines were in the script, I feel like it came [naturally]. Tim really let us explore and it was just really natural and I feel like a lot of people can relate to that, especially in high school. We’ve all got that best friend that we can just depend on and tell everything to. I feel like it really relates to the times.”
If you ever get worried that the upcoming drama in their personal lives might keep the two characters too overwhelmed to hang, don’t be. Through giggles, Dara teases, “You’re going to see a lot more [of Kourtney and Nini]! A lot of stuff goes down – I can’t say anymore!”
In addition to these wonderful moments between the two friends, audiences will get to see Kourtney take on the costumes for the school musical, an interesting task as the character calls it a “period piece”. This is exciting to witness as Kourtney is known amongst students for her makeup tutorials.
When asked if there was a question about Kourtney that she hasn’t been asked yet, and wants to be, Dara is quick to say that, surprisingly, not many people have asked if she can do makeup and costume design in real life. “With my whole character, you know, she’s a makeup artist, she’s a costume artist, so nobody’s asked me if I can actually design costumes and do makeup in real life. Fun fact is – I can! I can’t sew as good as Kourtney but I’m trying.”
Her favorite accessory that her character has or handles in the show? Kourtney’s hair accessories. It’s first introduced in the premiere episode.
“I wear a lot of different hair styles and different hair accessories in the show and I just love my hairstylist – shout-out to Megan [Danner]!” she begins, the grin evident in her tone. “She really let me explore and we did a lot of new things that Disney hasn’t really seen before. So, it’s a lot of new styles that a lot of people from my culture wear and I’m really excited to share my culture with Disney and with the fans!”
Being able to share aspects of her culture with such a wide audience still has Dara left in a bit of shock and awe. “Wow,” she says when first thinking of how the greater representation in the show has affected her. “Growing up, I was kind of made fun of for my hair, made fun of because of my weight, and all of that. I used to be very insecure about expressing myself and expressing the things that a lot of people like me do. As soon as I hit 15, I was like, ‘You know what? Forget it. Imma do it – I’m gonna be me. And I’m going to express my culture.’ And I really love how this show really let me do that.” The talented star continues, “They were like, ‘You know what, we want to see you! Be you!’”
“I just really think that girls need to see a diverse group of people. Not everyone looks the same and that’s okay.”
When speaking with the cast, there were five questions that every cast member was asked. Here are Dara’s answers to those questions!
TEENPLICITY: What is your favorite musical?
“Ooo, I study musicals for my free time so I’m thinking of every musical from like 1970 to 2019. I’m going to say Dreamgirls.”
TEENPLICITY: What is your favorite High School Musical song from any of the films?
“I’m going to say ‘I Want It All’ with Sharpay & Ryan when they do the dances.”
TEENPLICITY: Do you have a favorite original song from the series?
“Mmm… I don’t think I can say! There’s this one song that I really connect to and it’s really good. I feel like it’s going to relate to a lot of people and… it’s gonna be poppin’! That’s all I can say for now but it’s really poppin’. That soundtrack is gonna be poppin’, trust.”
TEENPLICITY: If you could play any High School Musical character in the original films, who would you be and why?
“I would want to play Taylor! I feel like Monique Coleman – she was such a role model to me. She literally made me want to get into science. I was like, ‘She’s doing science? I want to do that!’ She was such a role model for me, and everything she did was so inspiring. I really loved how she was herself and was a genius and she wasn’t afraid to show it.”
TEENPLICITY: Though you play Nini’s best friend on the show, personally, are you Team Ricky or Team EJ?
“I’m Team Nini, period.”
High School Musical: The Musical: The Series premieres on Disney+ on Tuesday, November 12th!