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Wildcats, the much-awaited reboot of the High School Musical franchise, High School Musical: The Series, makes its way to Disney fans everywhere Tuesday, November 12. Among the members of the star-studded cast (including Sofia Wylie, Dara Renee, and Joshua Bassett) in this musical series is scene-stealer Frankie Rodriguez who is making his Disney debut with the series.
Unlike previous “High School Musicals,” High School Musical: The Series follows a brand new cast of characters from the East High drama club as they prepare to put on the school’s first production of “High School Musical.” One of those new characters is student choreographer Carlos played by Frankie. Frankie describes his character as the drama teacher’s “right-hand man,” and “He has his sights set on Broadway.”
Frankie also has his sights set on Broadway. When asked if he could relate to his character’s musical aspirations, he answers, “150%!” He’s acting now, but Frankie started his rise to fame performing covers of musical theater songs. “I grew up in a very musical family,” he says, “so we were always surrounded by music.” Frankie played in the marching band (he played mellophone), but becoming the Broadway fanatic of the family changed everything. “That kind of changed my life and switched my focus to trying to pursue musical theater.”
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Music and entertaining are part of who Frankie is, but one gap between him and his triple-threat character is dance. Before High School Musical: The Series, Frankie had some dance training but “nothing compared to the choreography you see on the show.” Choreography is, of course, a major part of Carlos’ role in the East High drama, so part of preparing for this role meant learning what it meant to be in charge of a production’s movement. “They invited me to a few rehearsals with just the dancers to kind of see how he interacts with them,” Frankie says. “Dancers talk in a very specific way. It’s rhythm, so it was interesting to pick up on that language and essentially have to learn a whole other language to communicate with dancers.”
Working on High School Musical: The Series opened Frankie up to a whole new world of performance. While he still wants to work in the realm of musical theater, he has found that there are so many roles to play on screen. “I haven’t been on stage in a minute, like doing shows or anything, but I do miss it so much,” he tells us.
But he can’t imagine fully giving up live performances. “There’s always an energy, every show that you do, like that backstage energy right before you go on…that’s… It’s very addicting.” However, that doesn’t mean we’ll be getting any Frankie Rodriguez original singles any time soon. When asked about the possibility of original music, he says, “You know, I’m not like trying to be the next Ariana Grande.” He laughs. “I don’t think so. No.”
Luckily, we still get to hear Frankie and his castmates sing, bringing a new twist to “High School Musical”. Every episode of the series features a different song from the movies as well as an original song. “We get to come in and sing all of these familiar songs, but we have a different take on them,” Frankie says.
Among those unique takes are contributions from the cast members themselves. “I think what makes it different…What is different about us is we were allowed a little more freedom to contribute to the storytelling,” he tells us about the interpretive freedom this generation of East High Students has.
“The whole process was like one big summer camp,” Frankie says about the process of filming the series’ first season. They were always doing something different, from time in the recording studio to dance rehearsals (“Who can complain about dancing all the time?”). Frankie remembers just being inspired by the people he was working with. “To go into work every day and you have Sofia Wylie jumping off tables and doing triple pirouettes, it makes you want to step up your game.”
Frankie’s goals are set as high as Sofia’s leaps, though. As an influencer, he hopes to promote more Latin diversity and LGBTQ+ representation in Hollywood. “There’s nothing that I can think of growing up watching television that I really identified with, not just the way I look but also, you know, just me in general. There’s really no one on television that I was like, ‘Oh, that’s me! That’s the kid I connected with,'” he says.
Playing Carlos, one of Disney’s few openly gay characters, Frankie is excited to be in a space that is generally welcoming to LGBTQ+ storylines. “For people to identify with things in the media is very important,” he tells us. “I don’t know how to explain it. Carlos is just, he is just like a sweet person. If someone can look up to him and just say, ‘Well, he’s 100% himself, so that gives me the courage to be 100% myself,’ that would make me the happiest person.”
Among the things that make Frankie happy outside of acting singing, and inspiring people, are shoes. “Shoes are very new for me because I have never ever cared about shoes,” he says. “I think Instagram really changed this because now they have those targeted ads.” Even though Frankie’s shoe obsession is new, he already has quite the collection–over 50 pairs of shoes in various brands including Converse, Vans, Pumas, and Dr. Martins. He laughs about the shoe army he has created. “It’s getting out of hand. I might need to take a break.”
Among those shoes is a pair of sparkling heels that Frankie designated as shelf shoes. When we talked to him, he couldn’t walk in them, only admire how gorgeous they are. High School Musical: The Series premieres on Disney+ on Tuesday, November 12, and he hopes to be able to walk around in them by then. So, while you’re marking your calendars to see Frankie as Carlos, he’s probably strutting proudly around LA.