Being “Around You”: The Best Duets in the “High School Musical” Franchise

With Miss Jenn having a duet with her ex-boyfriend and rival theatre teacher from North High ex-boyfriend Zack (Derek Hough) with the song “Around You” on this past week’s episode of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, let’s run through some of the best duets in the High School Musical franchise. These duets bring romance to life, show off some silly fun or simply remensicse about guys being dudes. These are presented in no particular order and a great beginner’s guide to the best duets that HSM has to offer.

“Bop to the Top” (HSM, Ryan and Sharpay)

The “villains” of the film get a moment to shine in the silliest way possible. “Bop to the Top” is not exactly the best song in the series, but Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale) and Ryan (Lucas Gabreel) are having an absolute ball singing the ridiculous mambo number complete with gaudy outfits. With the first line of “¡Mucho gusto!” from Ryan, it gives a clue that the next several minutes are going to be cheesy goodness. The duo shine in the best/worst way with dance moves that wouldn’t make it past the first round of Dancing with the Stars, yet this adds to how memorable it all is.

“Breaking Free” (HSM, Troy and Gabriella)

With Troy and Gabriella barely making the audition much to the chagrin of Mrs. Darbus, these two knock it out of the park with a powerful performance between the two. After being tied down to their respective subjects, Troy as a basketball star and Gabriella as a science whiz, they break free from the reins of the “status quo”. They become singing sensations for the school in an audition everyone witnessed. This is the cornerstone of the series with a memorable song that goes beyond being tied to the film and being known by many people, even those who have not seen the trilogy. Both voices compliment each other and are no longer in the awkward state they both were in during the “Start of Something New.” It’s not only one of the best Disney channel Original Movie moments of all time, but one of the best Disney moments ever.

“You Are the Music in Me” (High School Musical 2, Troy and Gabriella)

 

What if “Breaking Free” was a much quieter number? That’s where this number steps in with a light and soft number performed. Even better, Zac Efron finally shows off his singing after Seeley stepped in for him as mentioned above. His voice matches incredibly with Hudgens in a sweet number that is on par with “Breaking Free” without the audience. It’s a private performance with Kelsi on the piano to provide accompaniment. It also helps the two were dating at the time adding to the chemistry featured in the scene. It’s also quite the bonus as the rest of the cast comes in to add a deeper harmony layer to an already great song.

“I Don’t Dance” (HSM2, Chad and Ryan)

Probably the most unexpected duet in HSM history, Chad (Corbin Bleu) and Ryan partner up for a quick song and dance number with Chad dismissing the fact he can dance. Ryan is trying to convince him in the midst of a baseball game of all things. What follows is not only a fun call-and-response duet number, but a spectacular dance sequence on a baseball diamond with baseball bats, flips a plenty and a miniature dance battle from both teams playing. It’s a number that stands out in the divisive sequel with brilliant moves showing off Chad and Ryan’s moves and their vocal ranges against one another. 

“Right Here, Right Now” (High School Musical 3: Senior Year, Troy and Gabriella)

This song is a special one in that only one part of it was featured in the original release of the movie. Both parts feature Troy’s treehouse with both Tory and Gabriella taking in the present as they head into a future of the unknown that they may not know. They dance around the spinning set in love with one another to take in the time they do have together.

It appears later in the Extended version in (minus the spinning) in a quick emotional moment in time, this time realizing they will be apart from one another as Troy is ready to be at University of Albuquerque as Gabriella debates heading to Stanford University. They are both sing into the night separated via their own balconies wondering if their futures are worth venturing into. Luckily, for HSM fans, this Extended Version is the one that is currently available on Disney+ to bring the full experience to life.

“I Want It All” (HSM3SY, Sharpay and Ryan)

After a whole film of Sharpay being the main villain and not having many standout numbers, she is back with her brother Ryan in tow to deliver a song about what she desires to be. In this number, Sharpay and Ryan imagine the future with everyone else in the cast not getting their dreams and underneath them. It’s a step-up from “Bop to the Top” and, now with a big screen movie budget, they were able to go the extra mile in the presentation. The number has neon lights and signs, dozens of dancers, big and loud sets, elaborate lighting and costumes that resembles The Genie “Friend Like Me” number from the original Aladdin. It’s the literal showstopper of HSM3:SY in all the best ways.

“The Boys Are Back” (HSM3SY, Chad and Troy)

The boys are indeed back in a number in the junkyard as Chad and Troy take a break from fixing up Troy’s truck to dance and sing about their younger days. With the duo singing about how they used to pretend to be heroes and saving the girl, they run about the junkyard air guitaring and fending off the others around them. The junkyard dancers are a nice touch looking like members of the post-apocalypse ready to combat the duo in a dance battle. One surprise is when Chad and Troy slide under a car and transform back into their younger selves ready to take on the world before transforming back into their teen selves in an instant. It’s a fun number, if a bit cheesy at times.

“I Think I Kinda, You Know” (High School Musical: The Musical: The Series Season 1 “The Audition”, Nini & Ricky)

Now onto the series with the de facto couple of Nini and Ricky. Rather than be set in the same universe of the movie, it is set in our reality where the film became the phenomenon it was. With the actual East High ready to set the stage for the stage version of the original, Nini (Olivia Rodrigo) and Ricky (Joshua Bassett) are childhood pals with an admiration for each other. This is explored in the series beginning with Nini pouring her heart to Ricky via song because this is still a musical after all. It’s a sweet and tender tune without saying the three little words out right reflecting on their time together and preparing to say what they both have in mind.

“What I Been Looking For” (HSMTMTS Season 1, Nini and E.J.)

The original version may not be on the list as wonderful as it is, but this version made it for how real and sarcastic it all turns out. While rehearsing for the play, Nini and E.J. (Matt Cornett) tried to date briefly, and E.J. was cast as Troy. What brings this version to life is how Nini is literally seething with every song, getting upset with each passing line, and verbally angry.

It’s a preview into Rodrigo’s own sarcastic side that would appear on her album SOUR as well as showing off her pipes. On the soundtrack version released, it’s clear Rodrigo has fun playing the role of an upset Nini with Cornett’s E.J. just trying to stick to his best landing while trying to ignore her interpretation. It is hilarious and Gina (Sofie Wylie) sums it up perfectly, chiming in with her line “Well, this is a choice.”

“Just for a Moment” (HSMTMTS Season 1, Nini and Ricky)

Ricky and Nini in this number sing about if they really are in love or are they actually just playing a role. They can connect in song for a brief moment in time or a moment in love as sung in the song. There is hopefulness in having to be there for one another as they both wish to be together for as long as they can. It’s a bit heartbreaking as they struggle to realize they truly have feelings, but must also come to terms with the reality that they may not work out like they thought. Their voices compliment one another and it feels genuine between the two.  It mirrors the chemistry that Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens had in their respective films when singing with one another.

“Even When/The Best Part” (HSTMTS Season 2, Nini and Ricky)

This duet is one of the other more unique ones due to it being two songs combined. Nini has moved away to Denver to be a part of an Actor’s Conservatory school while Ricky is still living in Salt Lake City and at East High. Ricky sings “Even When” as Nini sings “The Best Part” as their separate songs follow the same melody with each of them taking their own take on it. This blended duet is a wondrous standout as both fit naturally together. Both songs work on their own (in fact, they were also released separately), but combined, it feels like they are always meant to be with one another much like how Nini and Ricky feel like they are naturally meant to be. It’s simplistic yet satisfying without having to overdue it all.

“Red Means Love” (HSMTMTS Season 2, Big Red and Ashlyn)

The most recent duet to join the lineup of memorable duets comes in the form of an end credits scene via Big Red (Larry Saperstein) and Ashlyn (Julia Lester). The hip-hop inspired number is reminiscent of the big numbers of the original trilogy. He expresses his love for Ashlyn with a cute number as they begin to sing a cute number that is bombastic and poppy. There are also solid references to the original HSM and the classical dance-musical pair of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers that is surprising to say the least. It is interesting that it is left to the end credits of an episode, but it is a spectacular surprise that is worth watching.

“Around You” (HSMTMTS, Miss Jenn and Zach)

The newest duet in the lineup is also a strong contender for being among the best with Miss Jenn (Kate Reinders) and Zach (Derek Hough) having a moment together. Zach is the new drama teacher at rival school North High. The two, having been high school sweethearts in the past, have a strong connection still even if Zach came off a bit rude in his first appearance. It’s also great to see Miss Jenn shine in a song as Reinders comes from a stage background and her voice is on full display. It works well in tandem with Hough’s vocals and can definitely feel that the chemistry of the past is coming back in full bloom, even if their two separate schools and drama classes are in the midst of a strong rivalry for the Menkies.

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