October 12, 2008

This Dude is Well Fit, He’s so, Like, Way Buff. Toodles …

By Katy Guest

Hero or Villain? Zac Efron

It has been a long old week for the Teen Choice Awards Male Hottie of the Year, 2007. In London, with his glamorous girlfriend, for the premiere of their new movie, Zac Efron had an eventful time. First, advance ticket sales for 'High School Musical 3: Senior Year' broke all records, then its star was struck down with a stomach bug and struggled with his innards all the way down the red carpet. Thousands of screaming fans turned up in Leicester Square to clamour for a glimpse. The next day, a middle-aged Fabio Capello lookalike shouted abuse at Efron and tried to grab him. Efron was paid 1.75m for the movie, the last in a trilogy that has achieved worldwide success; he is dating his foxy co-star, Vanessa Hudgens; girls all over the world are in love with him.

And yet people say he's boring. "Zac is incredibly bland," one cruel acquaintance told a newspaper last week. "Any personality, spontaneity or charisma has been sapped away."

For those out of touch moviegoers who have missed the 'High School Musical' legend and assume that Zac Efron must be Nora's youngest, this will all come as a surprise. But to fans of American musical films and all girls under 15, this has been a thrilling week. Just imagine that David Cassidy turned up in London, with Marie Osmond on his arm and the Bay City Rollers trailing behind, and you have some idea of the teen-idol value of this small posse. Hearts are throbbing faster than they have done since Donny donned a pair of tight, white, polyester trousers and sang 'Puppy Love' to a stadium full of girls in slacks.

The plot of HSM is devilish tricky to summarise. Its author describes it as a reworking of 'Romeo and Juliet' - but nobody dies. Fans say it reminds them of 'Grease'. It tells the rollercoaster tale of star-crossed lovers Troy Bolton (Efron) and Gabriella Montez (Hudgens): he is the captain of the basketball team; she is a maths genius with a talent for singing. Will they overcome the approbation of the school and the scheming temptress Sharpay Evans to consummate their luurve before the school's winter musical? Will the maths club and the basketball team ever forgive them?

So far, so predictable. But this is not any ordinary high school musical; this is Disney. Co-star Ashley Tisdale (Sharpay), confirms that the world of the Disney teen superstar is much like we British plebs surely imagine it. "All the Disney Channel stars live right in the same neighbourhood," she says. "I live on the same street as Miley [Cyrus, aka Hannah Montana] and ... Vanessa and Zac live right there too. It's so funny - it's like this whole little Disney community." It is a community that rallied round when unfortunate photographs of an underdressed Hudgens appeared on the net. Disney called it a "lapse in judgement".

Efron, one imagines, manages his own image very carefully. This is a boy who would "flip out" at high school if he got a B instead of an A. One of the 100 most beautiful people in the world, according to 'People' magazine. This is the "poster boy for tweeny boppers", as 'Rolling Stone' stated when he was their cover star in August 2007. Ashley Tisdale confirms: "It's true that he has a way of wowing girls which gives every one of them the hope that they could be his girlfriend."

Zac Efron might, however, just be shrewd enough to see a future beyond Disney, screaming tweens and sanitised love scenes. Rumours have emerged that he's been offered the lead in the Broadway production of 'Equus' when Daniel Radcliffe - that other teen turned thesp - ends his acclaimed run. Today: Leicester Square; tomorrow: the world.

(c) 2008 Independent on Sunday, The. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.