High School Musical 3: Senior Year

There's a Rockettes-style line of dancers, 99 extras in elaborate costumes and a giant Statue of Liberty head that shoots confetti. No, this isn't a hallucination. This is High School Musical 3: Senior Year. And it's the third and final day of shooting for a dance number called "I Want It All." Set in the famous cafeteria where Broadway-loving sibs Sharpay and Ryan sang "Stick to the Status Quo" in the first film, the place has been transformed into a mini–Times Square.

"We've come pretty far from a black stage and a gold ladder," marvels Lucas Grabeel, who plays drama-club president Ryan. "It's stepped up to a whole new level for the theatrical release."

On October 24, the wildly popular High School Musical franchise will conquer the final frontier — the big screen. The original film, which aired on Disney Channel in January 2006, became a monster hit seen by more than 250 million viewers in over 100 countries. It spawned a hit soundtrack, a sold-out concert tour, an ice show, high-school copycats and a sequel, which ranked as the No. 1 entertainment basic-cable telecast of all time when it aired in August 2007. So it's no wonder producers decided to take Chapter 3 to the big screen. Box-office analyst Jeff Bock believes the gamble will pay off. " HSM3 is going to play out like a huge summer blockbuster," he predicts.

In the film, lovebirds Troy and Gabriella (Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens) prepare to say good-bye as they head off to different colleges, Chad (Corbin Bleu) deals with his best friend choosing a different path, Taylor (Monique Coleman) continues to be the smartest girl in the world, and Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale) schemes to make sure her brother Ryan follows her to Juilliard — and Broadway. Along the way, the gang performs their spring musical, goes to the prom and graduates — all, of course, accompanied by catchy tunes and snazzy dance numbers.

"[We've got everything] from two people waltzing to an explosive, old-Broadway musical number," says director Kenny Ortega, who certainly knows his dance stuff. (He was mentored by Gene Kelly and has choreographed such films as Dirty Dancing and Xanadu.) For one sequence, Efron even had to master break-dancing. He got his headspin on during the cast's intensive pre-filming dance camp. "I was so out of shape!" he says. (Yeah, right.)

Back on set, there are only three weeks of filming left, and the thought of the HSM ride coming to an end leaves the cast with mixed emotions. "We've been through this life-changing phenomenon together," Bleu says. "We're brothers and sisters in a way." Hudgens agrees: "We grew up together and we've had the time of our lives doing this. It's really depressing that it's ending."

But is it really good-bye for good? Senior Year introduces three charismatic sophomores — Sharpay's dutiful assistant Tiara (Jemma McKenzie- Brown), b-baller Jimmy (Matt Prokop) and his pal Donny (Justin Martin) — who could headline the next installment and help keep the Wildcats on their winning streak. "HSM is really just about kids growing up, discovering who they are and trying to be brave," says Efron. "I think it's a never-ending story."

From his lips to the Mouse's ears. — Jennifer L. Smith