Kate Reinders has had a successful musical theater career, appearing in projects from "Gypsy" to "Good Vibrations." Her long body of professional work came after years of performing in local, regional and national productions for the Seattle native who grew up in Michigan.
One big musical production she missed out on – only because she was the teeniest bit too old and was already working on Broadway at the time – was the 2006 Disney Channel mega-hit "High School Musical." She did get to help in the process of turning the TV movie into a theatrical production later on, but never to the point where she could claim to be part of the phenomenon.
Now, Reinders is one of the stars of the new 10-episode series "High School Musical: The Musical: The Series," launching on Disney+ Tuesday. Executive producer Tim Federle's production is set in the Salt Lake City high school where the three movies were filmed. New theater teacher Miss Jenn (Reinders) is appalled to hear East High School has never performed the musical and makes it her mission to make it happen.
When Reinders was in high school, there weren't a lot of outlets to do musical theater. Those who did take to the stage weren't considered part of the cool crowd.
"I was a geek," Reinders says. "I was tiny. I was the latest bloomer of all. But I loved musical theater because that was a place where that stuff didn't matter. Everyone was accepting of each other and celebrated for what made them unique.
"Then 'High School Musical' came along and it was suddenly cool to be part of musical theater."
Reinders credits a summer stock theater in her hometown for giving her the first steps in making her theater journey. She started appearing in summer productions there when she was 12 and continued through the end of high school.
The shows were a mix of local performers with directors and actors from New York, which gave Reinders a chance to learn from professionals and cultivate contacts. It was only two years after graduating from Western Michigan Christian High School that Reinders was working on Broadway.
"When I was a young girl, I dreamt of being in 'Les Miserables' because that was the show then. I realized at some point I would never play Eponine, but then at the same time I realized that Glinda in 'Wicked' would be the role that I would dream of playing if I was young. And here I am playing it," Reinders says. "I remember being in Chicago, in the bubble, thinking this is it. I am living my dream."
Reinders thought her career would go downhill after playing Glinda. But that changed when the Disney+ series came along. Her character is new to the "High School Musical" world and Reinders is excited about getting to take on the role. She was so determined to get the part, Reinders showed up to the audition with a flute because everyone had been told they would need to show off all their special skills.
A variety of teachers helped mold Reinders to be a Broadway star, appearing in such works as "Wicked," "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," "Into the Woods" and "Something Rotten!" But she channeled a different person to come up with the energetic and determined Miss Jenn.
"If anything, I am channeling my mother a little bit. But, that's not my fault," Reinders says. "I have had many teachers who have influenced me in ways I don't even realize. I thank all of them for their patience and love."
This season will chart the process of the school putting the show together from auditions to opening night. The young actors in the series taking on the characters who will be playing roles from "High School Musical" include Joshua Bassett, Olivia Rodrigo, Sofia Wylie, Matt Cornett, Dara Renee, Julia Lester, Frankie A. Rodriguez and Larry Saperstein.
Reinders is not actually the theater teacher for the young cast members, but she does have the kind of knowledge to share that comes with years of working in theater productions.
"They are not just getting into musical theater, they are redefining it and making it their own," Reinders says. "Honestly, I feel so privileged to know them now and see where they go from here. In 20 years, I will get to say 'I knew them when' because they are all superstars in their own right."
'HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL: THE MUSICAL: THE SERIES'
Available starting Tuesday on Disney+
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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