Last Friday, they were the poster kids for a pair of hit Disney Channel movies. By Sunday evening, the leads of High School Musical 3: Senior Year Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Grabeel, Corbin Bleu and Monique Coleman were bona fide movie stars. The G-rated threequel grossed $42 million in the US in its first weekend, a feat no musical has ever come close to matching (runner-up Mamma Mia! opened to $27.8 million last summer). ''It far exceeded our expectations,'' says Disney production chief Oren Aviv. ''And frankly, we already had high expectations.'' So with the final basket sunk and the last showstopper sung, where do the Wildcats go from here?
Though star Zac Efron has clearly been voted Most Likely to Succeed in his High School class, it's still unclear whether the he can carry a movie alone. We'll find out next April, when he headlines the Big-style comedy 17 Again. The project's box office fate rests squarely on Efron's shoulders, but director Burr Steers isn't worried: ''He'll be fine making the transition to leading man. Any doubt of that will be erased by this movie.'' The 21-year-old also has an eclectic role in Me & Orson Welles, a Richard Linklater-directed period drama that's still up for sale after premiering at last year's Toronto Film Festival. Of course, Efron isn't ditching his dancing shoes for good: He's signed on for HSM3 director Kenny Ortega's musical remake of the 1984 hit Footloose, which has now been fast-tracked for a spring production start to better capitalize on Efron's current hit. ''It's going to be a true contemporary role that includes a little more edge and sexuality,'' says producer Neil Meron, who also worked with Efron on Hairspray. ''Zac is going to mature away from the Disney persona.''
Whether his onscreen teammates can do the same is still uncertain. Given the choice of sticking to their young fanbase or moving on to edgier fare, the gals seem to be playing it safe: Next July, Hudgens appears in the high school comedy Bandslam with Lisa Kudrow, while Tisdale who has a musical remake of 1989's Teen Witch in development headlines the family comedy They Came from Upstairs, costarring Doris Roberts and a bunch of cuddly aliens. Coleman has yet to choose a follow-up.
As for the boys, Bleu will shift gears for the moto-cross drama Freestyle (which he coproduced) in January before releasing his second album in February. And Grabeel, who skipped much of the HSM3 press tour to shoot the family comedy Tokyo Jones/Legend of the Dancing Ninja, will be in theaters next month with a small role in Gus Van Sant's weighty Oscar contender Milk.