Los Angeles, it’s not. But this past spring, St. George, Utah, felt like home to the cast of High School Musical 2. For many of the young stars, the shoot there was their first time living on their own, learning to balance grueling 12-hour workdays with a teen’s need to have fun. At one late-night Denny’s run, Corbin called the mother of an extra to plead for an extended curfew. “He was sweet. He said, ‘We’ll make sure she gets home safe,'” says server Kelly Linde. “How could she say no?” She didn’t.
MEET THE LOCALS
Entrada’s Pool Cafe Waiter When it came to taking care of the stars, Graff had the magic touch—with the blender. “They loved smoothies,” he says. Zac liked strawberry-banana; Corbin opted for guava, when possible. “He’d say, ‘Can you make this? If you can’t, it’s okay.’ He was always thanking me.”
Entrada’s Executive Chef As provider of fries and milk shakes, Smith scored with the cast—and his 10-year-old daughter. “I’d say, ‘Me, Corbin and Zac were just talking,’ and she’d be like,’Are you serious?'” Once, Corbin gave her a hug. Says Smith: “Now she’s like, ‘He’s my new boyfriend. We’re dating now.'”
While filming in St. George, the cast stayed in casitas (little houses) at The Inn at Entrada. Zac liked to skateboard in the driveway of his casita and watch Dancing with the Stars with Vanessa on the TV in the resort’s lobby. Chris Warren Jr. was big on ordering out for pizza. And the whole crew hit the pool as much as possible. “They’d always come out and sunbathe, just play around,” says Carson Graff, the clerk at the pool cafe, where Ashley ordered hot dogs, while Corbin tended to be a turkey sandwich man. Says Graff: “They were all really nice people.”
THE GOLF COURSE
Forget the tricky dance moves. For one big scene, Entrada golf director David Hall had to help Zac and Ashley master a golf swing. Already at home on the links, Zac just needed “fine-tuning,” says Hall. But Ashley? “She was hitting balls sideways,” he says. Hey, that’s why they call it acting.
Next to East High’s cafeteria, this area is the backdrop for HSM2’s opening number. Some real band members were extras, “pretending to play, moving and dancing,” says trombonist Idalia Ramirez. “It was fun.” In the summer, fans can rent the space for birthday parties.
DR. ROBYN ROBERTS
Ever since the first movie, fans e-mail, fax, take tours and sneak up to windows to get a better view of the real East High, where principal Roberts happily signs autographs and hands out souvenir buttons. “Most movies bring out the negative about high school. This brings out the positive. It’s really neat.”
TAKASHI, Salt Lake City
Zac was a fan of this Japanese restaurant, where he would order “a bunch of raw stuff,” says server Jesse Kolstad (left). One night Zac and Vanessa dropped in with pals and had to wait for a table. With Teal Gibo (right), the hostess and daughter of owner Takashi (center), Zac and Vanessa were, she says, “shy.” Not so with each other. Between bites of their favorite Strawberry Fields roll—which features escolar (a mackerel-like fish), strawberries and eel sauce—Gibo says, “They’d sit on each other’s laps, holding hands. It was cute.”
DENNY’S RESTAURANT, St. George
After long days on-set, the cast would arrive around 1 a.m. and order plates of chicken strips. “Kaycee Stroh [Martha] was always like, ‘I’m sorry you have to deal with us,'” says server Kelly Linde (below). But the gang stacked their plates and left nice tips. “They were great,” she says.
SEGO LILY MIND BODY SPA, Salt Lake City
Lucas, who was beset by aches and pains during filming, was delighted to get a massage at the spa to work out his kinks. But the real thrill went to 8-year-old Mikayla Moon and her brother Jackson, 9, the children of an employee, who got to sit with director Kenny Ortega and watch the actors shoot a scene in the spa’s yoga studio. An added bonus: Ashley wrote two notes in Mikayla’s High School Musical journal. “She wrote, ‘Follow your dreams’ for me and she wrote, ‘Best wishes’ to Jackson.” Sums up Jackson: “I was like, ‘Awesome!'”
EXTREME RACING INC., St. George
When Zac, Vanessa, Corbin and Chris Warren Jr. walked into the go-cart track, “the other kids went crazy,” says cashier Tawnie Alford (right). But not as crazy as the stars themselves. “Chris almost killed Zac!” says employee Daven Brush (left) with a laugh. “I had to give him the no-bumping sign.” The only non-racer? Corbin. “He said he didn’t want to mess up his hair with the helmet,” says Alford.
ASHLEY TISDALE’S BACKSTAGE DIARY
If making High School Musical was like being in high school, then shooting the sequel was like being in college. We all had our own casitas—little ranch houses they had at the country club. It was so cool living on our own away from home! It was a real learning experience because some of us hadn’t really been away from home like this. We learned how to do our own laundry and we’d cook for each other. My specialty is breakfast—French toast and scrambled eggs. Zac always wanted me to make French toast. Sometimes the others would take a turn at cooking too. But for the most part, it was just easier to get food delivered. Vanessa was really good at ordering in food!
Being in St. George was a culture shock compared to Los Angeles—but in a good way. There aren’t as many places to go as Los Angeles, but the places that were there were great. We made multiple trips to restaurants like Olive Garden and the Pasta Factory. And when we worked late—sometimes until midnight or one o’clock in the morning, we’d hit Denny’s. They had a table just for us. And it wasn’t just the actors—the crew would join us. It was one big HSM2 dinner table. We also went to the movies a couple of times and it was great. You could buy popcorn, a soda and your ticket in St. George for the price of one ticket in L.A. Loved that about St. George! Every time we’d go out there’d be a bunch of us together, so it was kind of hard to not be noticed. But we didn’t care. The people in St. George were so warm and welcoming. And they seemed genuinely excited about us and the movie. They were so excited, especially for Zac and Corbin and Lucas. I mean, I know these guys so well, they are like my brothers. So to see these girls go gaga over them was funny. We signed a lot of autographs and posed for a lot of pictures. It was really awesome.
Everyone always asks me about my castmates. “What are they like? Who are you close with?” In a nutshell, they are all great and I am close with everyone. But person by person? Lucas is the serious one. Zac is very witty and has a great, sarcastic sense of humor. Corbin is always happy and very positive. When you are with Corbin you know you’re going to have a good time. Monique is like a big sister. She’s the one we all go to for advice about everything. And Vanessa? She’s a true girl’s girl. I think we were separated at birth! I have never met someone who has the exact same taste in clothes and shoes and purses as me! We love to shop! We do it in L.A. and we did it in St. George! Everyone always talks about Salt Lake City and Park City as the “in” places to go in Utah. But St. George was a great place to “go back to high school” for two months.