In its latest episode, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series officially made queer Disney history.
The episode — named “The Transformation'' — premiered on July 16, and features Disney’s first LGBTQ+ love song, a track titled “In a Heartbeat.” Sung by Frankie Rodriguez (Carlos) to Joe Serafini (Seb) — who recently revealed they are also dating IRL — the moment is one that makes history while highlighting the essential representation that both actors wish they were exposed to growing up.
“It’s so exciting, and hopefully it leaves a blueprint for more opportunities to come for other queer actors out there,” Frankie tells Teen Vogue.
The song comes as a moment of healing for the couple who, throughout the episode, battle normal growing pains of a teenage relationship. (Warning, light spoilers to follow!) As Carlos travels to Mexico for spring break, heavily documenting the beautiful scenery — and beautiful men — he spots along the way, Seb, back home in Salt Lake City, begins to bubble over with some understandable jealous insecurity. He begins to wonder: Is Carlos in love with me for me, or only because I am the only other queer boy at East High?
“In a Heartbeat” is the mend to heal the fan-favorite relationship, in which Carlos proves, simply and soothingly, that Seb’s worries can be laid to rest.
“It’s super meaningful,” Joe tells Teen Vogue. “You can sometimes doubt it and wonder if this is all real? Is it too good to be true? I feel like all of that is happening for Seb.”
He adds, “They are just another relationship on the show. Their main arcs aren’t about oppression or being that different. They have a relationship just like Ricky (Joshua Bassett) and Nini (Olivia Rodrigo) do, and I think that’s what’s really awesome about it.”
The normalization of Seb and Carlos’ romance sets it apart from other queer relationships on screen in which sexuality is a burden or hurdle to overcome, rather than just another trait of one’s personality. “We're not trying to achieve something crazy,” Frankie adds. “We just want love and romance just like everybody else. The song is about acceptance between the two, but then also, how they're being presented to the world.”
Frankie attributes much of the show’s LGBTQ+ representation to showrunner Tim Federle, a former Broadway performer turned author, writer, and creator extraordinaire.
“Not only are we playing queer characters, but we're also on a Disney show that has an openly gay showrunner advocating to make sure that our stories are told and done in an appropriate, accurate way. Which then allows for a safe space for queer actors to step on set where you know you can be 100% yourself.”
It’s often said that you can’t change the stories without changing the storytellers, and with Federle behind the scenes setting the tone for the characters — and actors who embody their every move – authentic representation becomes more than just a goal; It is a priority.
Looking back, Frankie points to Will & Grace as being a turning point for his exposure to queer characters, while Joe highlights shows like Glee and Smash. Yet the charismatic pair note that throughout their adolescence, childhood programming never reflected the internal whirlwinds they faced throughout their self-discovery. That makes being a part of HSMTMTS — a first of its kind series — all the more revolutionary and impactful.
Both actors hope the episode — and entire show — challenge societal norms while reminding kids at home that they are never, even in their darkest moments, alone. For the queer kids finding solace in their after-school theater programs; for those spending hours each night binge-watching YouTube compilations of Broadway beltresses singing the end of “Defying Gravity” from Wicked; for those who might watch HSMTMTS beneath their blankets once their parents have fallen fast asleep; for those who live in pain or constant worry — this is for them.
“There is life outside of your small town or wherever you are,” Frankie says. “And it's all just about finding your tribe of people that are going to love and support you no matter what.
Joe adds, “You're valid and it's beautiful.”
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