Everyone has “their thing” in high school. For some, it’s football or soccer; for others it’s chess club or the math team. For a select few, “their thing” is shining on stage in the school musical or play. Unfortunately, for most theater kids, their time in the spotlight ends shortly after they don their cap and gown and step into the real world. However, there are a few rare instances that allow for former thespians to give theater a go again. That’s exactly what “Encore!,” a new series exclusive to Disney Plus, is doing.
Each episode of “Encore!” shows the process of a cast of a high school production getting together again over 10 years later to perform a revival of the show that they performed in their youth. “Encore!” documents the reunion between old high school friends, auditioning for parts, the stress and chaos of learning lines, songs and dances in less than a week’s time and finally putting on the show. The series currently has seven episodes, each covering a wide variety of musicals and casts from all across the country. Let’s take a look at each episode and the special moments that ensued as adults took a step back in time to their younger days.
Episode 1: “Annie” (1996) Santee, California
The series premiere finds the 1996 cast of “Annie” back at their old stomping grounds, Santana High School. We are introduced to the individuals in the cast, who have grown up to be teachers, stay-at-home moms, police officers and many other types of professionals, as well as their beloved drama teacher, Ms. D.
Things take an emotional turn when some of the cast members share their high school struggles that other classmates were not aware of, like identity and coming out, having a tough home life and dealing with a cancer diagnosis. The episode heads back on a positive track when the cast bands together to put on their show, where executive producer of “Encore!,” Kristen Bell, meets the cast before they give a wonderful rendition of the fan favorite musical.
Episode 2: “Beauty and the Beast” (2007) Saginaw, Texas
The cast in this episode is significantly younger than most of the other casts in the series, but they still have many high school memories and enjoy the reunion aspect of the performance. The cast all reprised their roles, which worked well, but also brought up old wounds for some cast members.
Brittany, who played Mrs. Potts in her high school production, remembered wanting to play Belle and having a hard time playing the more matronly role of Mrs. Potts, but she was able to rethink the way that she saw the role. Zane, who played “The Beast” in the 2007 production, had difficulty learning the lyrics to his big number and had some fear going into the revival as he flubbed the lyrics in the past production. Everything went swimmingly at the end of the episode, however, when the Saginaw High School cast performed “Beauty and the Beast” once again.
Episode 3: “The Sound of Music” (1992) Flint, Michigan
The third episode of “Encore!” revisits the cast of “The Sound of Music,” who performed the musical in Flint, Michigan. The cast of the musical pick up where they left off and discuss how much the town means to them despite the many hardships it has faced, especially the water crisis.
This episode has many special moments throughout, with one of them being from Jacob, who plays Captain Von Trap. Jacob felt sort of like the outcast as a teenager, but is provided the chance to really shine when the director of the revival casts him in a different part than he was given in 1992. Some of the cast reprise their original roles, while others were put into the shoes of a new character. The cast put on a wonderful performance and capture the childlike essence of the Von Trapp children despite being much older than they were when they first played the characters.
Episode 4: “Grease” (1990) Hackensack, New Jersey
Ahhh… “Grease.” A cult favorite film and musical. The story and music are timeless and continue to be played and watched today. In this episode, former theater kids from Hackensack High School gather together at their alma mater to perform “Grease” again one last time. Hilarity ensues when the gang gets back together and relive some of the awkward moments from the show, like a full-on make out scene and mooning on stage.
Heartwarming moments are also present in the episode as one cast member opens up about her health struggles and persistence to go on for her children. A group of the cast members have a heart-to-heart about their high school lives and how things were different behind closed doors. Through hours of hard singing, dancing workouts and flubbing lines until they finally became second nature, the cast arrives at opening night and gives an energetic and fun-filled performance of the ‘50s musical.
Episode 5: “Annie Get Your Gun” (1998) Satellite Beach, Florida
Episode 5 consists of a revival of a Rodgers and Hammerstein favorite, “Annie Get Your Gun,” by the now grown up cast of the 1998 high school production. The episode highlights some tension between old flames and the issues that they faced as high school students. It also sees the cast working through these memories in an emotional group exercise.
Each cast member honed into the character that they were playing, whether it was reprising the role they played in high school, like Lane, who played Annie Oakley, or Bella, who tried on a new role with a gender-bent portrayal of the character Mr. Wilson. The meshing of new and old roles worked well and gave the performance a breath of fresh air.
Episode 6: “Oklahoma!” (1991) Snellville, Georgia
This episode of “Encore!” is another revival of a Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, but this time it is “Oklahoma!” Episode 6 has a sweet start when Ali Stroker, who is currently on Broadway in “Oklahoma!,” has a special meeting with Woody, who is a wheelchair user just like Stroker. The two discuss how to give Woody’s revival performance a new spin as he was not in a wheelchair the last time he performed.
Like a few of the other episodes, the directors recast the show as not all of the original cast had returned, and the directors felt that as some of the cast members have grown, their voices fit some parts better now. This new casting allows for some individuals to be given a new chance, like Kim, who is now portraying Ado Annie, one of the leading roles. High school sweethearts Laura and Chris are given a dream opportunity when they are cast opposite each other as Laurie and Will Parker. The reworking of the show, from the casting down to the choreography, allows for an enjoyable final performance for both the cast and the viewer.
Episode 7: “Godspell” (1998) Houston, Texas
Eisenhower High School students get back together to bring one of their high school performances back to life in this episode of “Encore!” It was easy for the cast to bond upon getting together, as it seemed like no time had passed. Other episodes had moments of camaraderie, but it is arguably the most apparent in this episode as the cast bonds in and out of the theater.
This performance of “Godspell” is special for more reasons than just being a revival. The revival takes a new spin on the setting of the show as the director decides to set the play during the Harlem Renaissance, a big change from the ‘70s flower child vibe from the previous performance. The set and costume choices allow for the cast to look and perform their best and make for an enjoyable and touching view.