In an obviously more lavish (and thus expensive) production, all the stops are pulled out as the East High kids prepare for summer vacation. The old stomping grounds at their Albequerque high school (the film was actually shot in Utah) are revisited during the opening number “What Time Is It?” We briefly see Troy (Efron) and Gabriela’s (Vanessa Hudgens) tormentor Mrs. Darbus (Alyson Reed) from the first film, but she is merely part of a fast-paced exposition that sets the East Siders free for what should be a carefree summer. The kids go through the now familiar hallways, cafeteria, and eventually finish on a high note on the outside campus with the school building in the background. The message is clear: school is out for summer; let the party begin.
Unfortunately, reality wriggles its way into the story. Troy and his teammates play basketball with his father (Bart Johnson), who happens to also be the team’s coach. Dad/coach establishes the idea that summer is also a good time to make some money to either buy a car, get things they want to buy, or perhaps save for college. This is the pivotal point in the rising action, for Troy’s concern about the cost of college leads him and his friends to take jobs at local resort. Unbeknownst to them, this has all been set-up by the snooty Sharpay (played with a touch of evil glee by Ashley Tisdale) in order for her to get closer, much closer, to Troy.
As the old gang descends on an upper-crusty New Mexico country club, we discover that Sharpay’s parents own the place, and she has not learned her lesson from the first movie and still foolishly has her eyes focused on Troy Bolton. Troy has wisely found a way for all his buds from East High, along with his favorite gal Gabriela, to get hired with him, making the situation ripe for sparks to fly as the annual talent show literally sets the stage for conflict.
There are solid dance numbers performed throughout, with some of the ancillary stars from the first film getting a little more to say, do, and sing this time around. The best one is “I Don’t Dance” set on a baseball field under a crystal clear blue desert sky. Here, Chad (Corbin Bleu) and Ryan (Lucas Grabeel) face-off in a battle of wits and physical prowess. It is what was once called a “showstopper” and manages to lift the spirits while propelling the plot forward nicely, slipping Ryan into the “in” crowd he never thought he could ever join.