The finale of “High School Musical” still stands out in Kenny Ortega’s mind. The director and choreographer of the 2006 film remembers shooting “We’re All in This Together,” the musical number at the very end of the movie, in particular.
“The cameras were rolling and I was sitting in my chair and I looked into the room and I thought, 'These kids better get ready for their lives to change because something mighty is happening here.’ And it hit me at that moment. I was able to step back out of being the director and accomplishing all of my ambitions and to sit back for a moment and recognize what we had accomplished. And I believed that there was something there that was going to be special. And that was going to have a reach. And here we are, it still does, and it still is.”
On set, he says he made sure to create an environment where the cast felt comfortable and supported, which created a foundation for engaging performances on screen.
“Zac (Efron) and Vanessa (Hudgens) — they just had this connection off camera that they were able to bring onto the screen that was deep and honest and real and beautiful. “
Those themes of togetherness in “High School Musical” still ring true today for Ortega as he worked on his latest project, called “Dance Across America,” a performance he created and choreographed to celebrate President Joe Biden’s inauguration in the "Parade Across America."
“We were hoping that 'Dance Across America' would inspire a [show of us all] united across America and 'High School Musical' is so much about that. It's so much about coming together and being on the same team, and showing your colors and being courageous and brave enough to not fall to peer pressure. And to give yourself a chance to really fulfill the greatest expectations for yourself."
The performance features Americans dancing to “Dancing in the Street” by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.
“We sent out a message all across America through my social media and other websites and within a week, we received over 2,000 submissions of people dancing from Alaska to Hawaii. It was unbelievable.”
He loved seeing people from all walks of life coming together in dance.
“It was just truly moving. I found myself in tears and laughing and just having a ball. (It’s) one of the most fun projects that I've worked on in a very, very long time.”