Ryan Evans, the High School Musical character that everybody thinks is gay,
has officially been outed.
No, not necessarily in High School Musical 3, the third entry of the popular
Disney movie series currently being filmed for an October theatrical release.
It’s in High School Musical on Tour!, a Disney-produced stage adaptation of the
original movie currently touring the country.
Bobby List ("Ryan") & Chandra Lee Schwartz perform in
Disney’s High School Musical National Tour ©2007, Disney.
Photo credit: Joan Marcus
In the movie, Ryan dresses stylishly, is musically inclined, wears a
different hat with every outfit, and, unlike all the other main characters, has
no apparent love interest. As a result, many observers, including some here at
AfterElton.com, have interpreted him as a “coded gay” character — a character
that the creative team conceived of as gay, even if the movies never come out
and say so directly.
This ambiguity regarding the character’s sexuality was particularly ironic
in light of the fact that the theme of the first movie, which has songs like
“Breaking Free” and “We’re All in This Together,” is that everyone should be
allowed to be exactly who they are.
However, for the stage adaptation, out playwright David Simpatico chose to
make Ryan’s gayness much more explicit.
“I wanted to present Ryan as something from my own past, a version of me, I
guess — though he’s a lot better dancer than I ever was!” David says. “In the
movie, the character has a gay tint. But in the stage version, I wanted to more
fully articulate that tint and say, hey, this kid is who he is. Yes, I consider
him a young gay guy without ever having to say it. I’d rather say it with
behavior and action. And we do.”
Playwright David Simpatico
Photo credit: Rolando Gori
Sure enough, Ryan’s locker in the stage version has pictures of men inside, not
women like the other guys. And when the play’s leading hunk Troy Bolton (Zac
Efron in the movies) brushes against Ryan at one point, the character literally
swoons, leaving absolutely no doubt whom he finds attractive.
On stage, the character also dresses even flashier than in the movies, gets
some catty witticisms, and is played with a more flamboyant lilt.
Disappointingly, Ryan still has no love interest, even though all of the
other major characters, even the two adults, pair up with opposite sex partners
by the show’s end.
Another change Simpatico made to the stage adaptation is that it is Ryan,
not Kelsi, who ultimately reveals Sharpay’s evil plot to the protagonists,
basically saving the day.
“I’m proud of the fact that in this Disney show, there is a strong gay
character who actually becomes the hero of the piece,” Simpatico says. “And he
provides representation for high school kids who might be gay or confused or
bullied for being a theater guy. I love that there is a character in this show
that I would have loved when I was in high school.”
Indeed, the whole stage adaptation comes across as much more “gay” than the
movie. There’s a terrifically hammy performance by Ellen Harvey as the theatre
teacher, Ms. Darbus, and one of the jocks is particularly exuberant when he
reveals his secret passion as a chef (as in the movie, the news is
enthusiastically accepted by the rest of the school, as is his killer crème brûlée).
“I guess the stage version comes off as a bit more gay [than the movie
version] since I wrote it, and it came through my prism,” says Simpatico. “I’m
a big gay boy from way back.”
He says Disney let his “inner gay” run wild. “The Disney folk gave me a
great opportunity to use other colors of my voice and to reach out and share
what I love most in the world, which is live theater. And so I did, within the
parameters of a family show. I have allusions to Mommie Dearest, Valley of the
Dolls, just fun kinda insider campy stuff.”
Meanwhile, the play includes an energetic cast that, while staying more or
less true to the squeaky-clean, irony-free source material, doesn’t hesitate to
camp it up. Watch for the hilarious and convincing transformation of the male
cast members from basketball jocks in one scene to legwarmer-wearing theater
geeks a few scenes later.
“Get’cha Head in the Game” from Disney’s
High School Musical National Tour. ©2007, Disney.
Photo credit: Joan Marcus