Cinderella story: Mouse's teen tuner strikes a chord

Call it family values with a beat you can dance to. The unprecedented success of the Disney Channel’s “High School Musical” not only has execs on the Burbank lot but also foot soldiers in the culture wars high-fiving. The Emmy-winning telefilm — which aired in January to 7.7 million viewers — was the highest-rated show in the cabler’s history, with more than 36.5 million viewers tuning in to its subsequent 12 airings. “HSM” has also racked up impressive DVD (more than 2 million units) and CD (nearly 3 million units) sales, and fattened Disney coffers with cash from ringtones, iTunes downloads and 350,000 copies sold of the telefilm’s novelization.

And if “HSM’s” franchise-worthy success wasn’t enough, its lack of violence, racial tension and sexual situations, and song titles like “Stick to the Status Quo,” also has conservative values groups like Focus on the Family raving.

Competitors have noticed; Nickelodeon’s new music-based series “The Naked Brothers Band,” title notwithstanding, has “HSM” in its crosshairs. While Disney has a legacy of using musical programs to vault its contract singers into stars (Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera, et al.), the off-the-charts success of “HSM” nonetheless surprised Disney brass.

“It came out of nowhere and has clearly struck a chord with viewers,” says Rich Ross, president of Disney Channel Worldwide. “There’s a thirst for pop music out there, and this helps satisfy it.”

To maintain the pic’s momentum — at least until a sequel hits the airwaves — a stage musical is being developed for camps, schools and organizations in two formats: a two-act play for younger audiences, and a three-act version for older groups. Both will be licensed for a fee through Disney’s Theatrical Prods. arm.

“It’s ‘Grease’ meets Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney ‘Let’s put on a show’ vibe,” says Thomas Schumacher, DTP president who is fast-tracking the stage versions while interest remains high. “It’s contemporary, completely gettable and sometimes silly. What’s not to like?”

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