With `High School,' bus boy graduates into fame's fast lane

by Alison Bonaguro
Special to the Tribune

(The Chicago Tribune, Published January 19, 2007


If the most popular guy in high school dropped out, that would make room for a new one. Which is exactly what's happened at psuedo-school East High, scene of the monster Disney Channel hit "High School Musical."

Troy Bolton was the man. But Zac Efron, who played Troy, is busy filming "Hairspray." So now that "HSM The Concert" has hit the road, there's a new Troy in town. Enter Drew Seeley.
 "A year ago, I was a busboy at a P.F. Chang's in California," Seeley said. Now he's Troy Bolton, jock-turned-singer in the stage version of the 'tween hit, which hits Rosemont's Allstate Arena on Friday.

But Seeley wasn't just plucked off the street for this role. He's been rehearsing for years. It's partially Seeley's voice that you hear on Efron's songs in the movie, and he co-wrote one of the film's hit songs, "Get'cha Head in the Game." That song was nominated for a 2006 Emmy award, and the soundtrack was the top-selling album last year, according to SoundScan. More than 3.7 million people--mostly females between the ages of 10 and 25--have it and know every word.

Now that it's Seeley's turn to be the uber-heartthrob, the reviews have almost all been good, even as most critics admit it's difficult to judge his vocals over the crowd yell-a-long. Another vote for Seeley is that he doesn't have a solo album coming out, so the Disney promo machine won't interfere with his act.

In a call from his tour bus, Seeley admitted he was apprehensive about how he'd be received.

"People were coming to the show to see the movie stars. So at the beginning, they're like `Who's this guy?," he said. "But by the end, I feel like I've won them over."

If Seeley's so good, why wasn't he actually in the film? He's textbook Disney: charm, good looks, powerful vocals and 18 years of dance experience. "I auditioned for a lot of parts," he said. "But I'd drive myself crazy trying to guess why I didn't get any."

The part he did get in the movie was as the uncredited singing voice of Troy. According to an industry source, Efron is a baritone, so Seeley's voice was needed for higher notes.

"I feel validated that I'm not just a behind-the-scenes guy anymore," said Seeley, "and I can step out and do this." Although he admits the dancing is more of a workout than he expected. "I told myself I was gonna use the hotel gyms every day," he said. "But this show's enough exercise for me."

"We had a very `Leave It To Beaver' family growing up," said Seeley's younger sister Katie. "My friends all had crushes on him, he's always been charming."

And the music was always there.

"I got the bug early, and now my iPod has 9000 songs on it," he said. He keeps it on shuffle, so he might hear Ella Fitzgerald, then Prince, then George Michael. It keeps things interesting.

How much will people pay to see Seeley and the rest of the film's leading cast: Corbin Blue (Chad), Monique Coleman (Taylor), Lucas Grabeel (Ryan), Vanessa Hudgens (Gabriella) and Ashley Tisdale (Sharpay)? The tickets sold out in a few hours, but ticket brokers have a few left. Front row seats are going for $750 each.

What you get for those hard-earned babysitting dollars is 90 minutes of glittery costumes, hip dance numbers and catchy, feel-good tunes. The best part, said Katie Seeley, is that "You leave smiling inside."

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