Learning from 'High School Musical'
By Steve and Gabi Russo
CBN.com Popular author and teen expert Steve Russo watched the High School Musical phenomenon unfold in his own home as his two daughters fell in love with the movie, the music, and the characters. Seeing an opportunity to reach a unique crowd, Russo, along with his 11-year-old daughter, Gabi, decided to write a book about the important topics and questions High School Musical raises—questions about identity, peer pressure, success, priorities, and more.
Sprinkled with humor and peppered with insight, Wildcats in the House addresses the problems
Troy and Gabriella face in the movie, uncovers the biblical principles woven into the movie, and shows how all this relates to its fans’ lives. And it’s just in time for the recent debut of High School Musical 2.
Russo recently discussed the book.
Steve, what was the motivation behind writing Wildcats in the House, based on the Disney Channel movie High School Musical?
My first exposure to the movie was through my youngest daughter, Gabi. After watching the movie several times with her and listening to the soundtrack over and over again, I started to tune in to the positive messages from the songs. I began to see the spiritual truth that could be found in each song. That’s when I got the idea it would be cool to write a book based on the movie to encourage kids.
For the sake of those in our audience who may not be familiar with the movie, what is High School Musical about?
At the heart of High School Musical is the story of two students who meet at a New Year’s Eve party, end up attending the same school, and impact the student body when they decide to challenge the status quo. Troy is captain of the East High “Wildcats” basketball team and Gabrielle is a member of the scholastic decathlon club. They shock the school by teaming to audition for the upcoming school musical. Despite both being outgoing, no one would ever imagine Troy and Gabriella as theater types. When word gets out that they’ve secretly chosen to go for it and try their luck on the stage, the students of East High end up learning important lessons in teamwork and developing the freedom to be themselves. It’s all about being yourself and following your dreams.
A Disney Channel movie seems like an odd place to find spiritual truth. Please explain your reasoning behind this concept.
There are many places we can find spiritual truth—including Disney Channel movies. We need to
start thinking outside the box and recognizing that all truth is God’s truth. As followers of Jesus we also need to know God’s Word better. When you look at life through the filter of a Biblical worldview, you will find spiritual truth in a variety of places. Then it’s just a matter of applying that truth to everyday life. When you listen to the lyrics of High School Musical, there are some great nuggets of spiritual truth to be found. When you consider the lyrics in light of God’s Word, they will not only challenge Christian young people in their own faith but also those who don’t know Jesus to think about spiritual things.
Give us some examples of the “spiritual stuff” you can learn from High School Musical.
“The Start of Something New” is all about faith and learning how to be a risk taker. It’s a great place to apply Hebrews 11. In the song “What I’ve Been Looking For” we have a great opportunity to look at who God is and His character, including the fact that He’s always with us. “Stick with the Status Quo” is a great song about identity and developing the freedom to be who God created you to be. There’s even spiritual stuff you can find in the bonus track on the DVD and CD—“I Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” God is always watching us, and we need to keep our eyes on Him.
Do you have a favorite song or two from the movie?
It’s hard to pick a favorite because all the songs are well produced and have some great spiritual applications. I guess if I had to pick a favorite or two they would be “We’re All In This Together” and “Breaking Free.” I especially like the spiritual applications that can be made in both of these songs.
What was it like to write Wildcats in the House with your daughter?
I always try to involve my kids in various aspects of our ministry, including the books and articles I write. I like to get their feedback and input. This was especially fun with Gabi because she did not initially know that we were working on a book together. It was cool listening to her “take” on the various songs and the spiritual applications she came up with for the different songs. I’ve been blessed with some talented and fun kids.
What are some of the different ways you see Wildcats in the House being used?
This book is a great resource for young people, parents, and youth workers. It’s perfect for small groups and individual study with youth groups and para-church ministries. It’s also a great resource for parents to read and discuss with their kids. Or it can be used as a discussion starter when talking with others about God.
What do you hope people will come away with after reading Wildcats in the House?
My hope is that people who read Wildcats in the House will be challenged to go deeper in the spiritual dimension of their life. I also hope readers will be encouraged to find spiritual truth they can apply to their lives in other movies and music. And it would be great if those who read the book use it as a tool to tell others about Jesus.
Steve, you spend a lot of time with young people. Tell us more about your ministry.
We have a ministry of evangelism focused on young people. Four key words describe what we do: connect, engage, influence, and transform. We want to connect with young people through relevant events and media so we can engage them in spiritual discussions to influence them to consider living their lives for and like Jesus. Ultimately, we want them to experience a transformed life through the power of the Gospel. Our ministry has taken us across North America and to 26 countries. You can learn more about our ministry by going to our website: www.realanswers.com.
From your vantage point in traveling and speaking, what would you say is the greatest need with young people today?
So many young people today struggle with finding acceptance, security, and significance—their identity. When your identity is not secure, it affects every dimension of your life. Consequently young people are making choices today that have some disastrous consequences. Our true identity can only be found in one place—Jesus Christ. That’s why it’s crucial we do everything we can to influence this generation to live their lives for and like Jesus.
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Note: This book is a commentary on, but is not affiliated with or licensed by, the High School Musical™ movie and trademark owned by Disney Enterprises.
Interview courtesy of Bethany House Publishers.
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