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'High School Musical' and 'Descendants' director's dream gig: A teen coming-out story

by Monica Bushman and Darby Maloney | The Frame

China Anne McClain (L), director Kenny Ortega, and Dove Cameron (R) on the set of "Descendants 2." David Bukach

It's a pretty good time right now to be director/choreographer Kenny Ortega.

With the success of "Hamilton" on Broadway, "La La Land" in film, and live musicals cropping up on multiple television networks, musical theater is definitely having a moment. 

"I think that perhaps television, and perhaps the movies, are discovering that there is an audience out there that you [just] have to find," Ortega says. "You have to awaken them."

For evidence that the audience for musical theater really is there, you need look no further than the Disney Channel's "Descendants" films, which Ortega choreographed and directed.

After the massive success of the first "Descendants" movie in 2015 (it was the top-rated TV movie of the year), Disney decided to release "Descendants 2" simultaneously on five Disney networks this July.

But Ortega is no newcomer to musical theater. After getting his start as teenager performing in productions of "Oliver!" and "Hair," he later expanded his repertoire to include choreography and directing.

Ortega's choreography credits include "Dirty Dancing" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," and "Xanadu," which he choreographed along with the legendary Gene Kelly. In addition to the "Descendants" movies, he directed and choreographed the first three "High School Musical" films for the Disney Channel. (He also worked with Michael Jackson as he prepared for his final tour, which is documented in "This Is It.")

So what's the story that Ortega still hasn't told that he'd love to see made?

"A wonderful coming-out story for young people," Ortega says. "I would love a 'Billy Elliot' that has a different ending, that premieres and showcases a young talent and character that is able to reveal themselves as a gay boy or girl. I think that that would be extraordinary. I would love to be a part of something like that, in the theater or in film."

To hear the full interview with Kenny Ortega, click the blue player above.

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