‘High’ Times Ahead

High school can be a high-wire act between cool and fool, king and clown, zits and hits.

The taut experience has taught at least one hot hero that balance is bliss: Clearly, Zac Efron doesn't fear from Clearasil; his career is as creamy as his clear complexion as he smooth-talks his way through high school hi jinks and serves as a study hall in studliness.

And if he's about to matriculate in his third high school in as many years … well, it's not that he's been suspended from each. More a case of suspended belief that any high school would ever let this guy go in the first place.

Of course, real-life Efron, 19, earned his diploma a while ago, but is using the secondary education and prime-time experience as his graduate school for a series of senior trips into Hollywood hotness.

As trusty Troy on the mega-successful Disney "High School Musical" — and the follow-up Disney Channel feature later this month — and now as Link, the prominent prom knight sweeping Tracy Turnblad off her zaftig base in the film "Hairspray," as well as the new link in the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" game as he goes for a fitting in Bacon's role in a revival of "Footloose," the Jewish kid from California has more photos snapped of him for the tabloids and teen mags than could fit into a senior yearbook.

And this may be the biggest year yet.

Sweet and sexy, seductively nice, he can't stop the beat — or the Tiger Beat for that matter, a mag that pages him for greatness in nearly every issue as it pictures him as proof that, when it comes to its tween and teen readers, sighs does matter.

At 5 ft. 8, he's now walking in the land of the Jewish giants — an American idol with little idle time on his hands, what with the big and small screens screaming for his attention.

Sure, he treasures his Travolta experience — John plays his silver-screen schpritz of a mother in "Hairspray" — and is apt to describe the former "Kotter" kid as the king of cool of all musicals, but it is his parents, David Efron and Starla Baskett, whom Zac credits for filling his personal basket with confidence from early on.

"Oh, they always encouraged me," smiles the personable performer dubbed by People as one of the "100 Most Beautiful People."

That title, in many ways, belongs to his folks, he avers. Of course, they had an early hint that the singer who later hit the charts with songs from "High School Musical" — one a duet with his on and, allegedly, off-screen co-star Vanessa Anne Hudgens — was destined for disk history. "Whenever we went on trips, I was always the one who couldn't stop singing in the back of the car," he chuckles.

Then there were his other vehicles, school productions of such musicals as "Peter Pan" and "The Music Man" — can't stop the beat, indeed.

And now, here he is, so soon after fans started taking note of him from appearances on TV in such series as "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody" and"Summerland," the heartthrob-of-a-hard-act-to-follow.

Not that the girls have a hard time following his every move — nor, for that matter, their Moms, some of whom have been known to dream of the dreamboat as someone they'd like to set sail with.

Lights Brighter on Broadway?
Did Efron have as high a time in high school as a student?

"No," he says, "high school was not this great."

Somehow, he's made it cool for kids to think of musicals as hip and happenin' — more a groove than the goof so long associated with Broadway-style shows for youngsters who turn up their noses and turn off their hearts to the broad way such shows have been pitched to them in the past.

Now, Efron's linked hot and cool limning Link and Troy. If there were a dance-off between the two, who would stomp the other?

"I think Link might be stuck in the '60s a little bit," says Efron of the '60s-set "Hairspray" hunk.

Ounce for ounce, Troy may have him beat. "Troy might have some cool, fresh moves. I don't know. It would be fun."

Fun and footloose and fancy free? He fancies the part.

"I watch that role," he says of the 1984 movie that featured Bacon in a flashdance of a break-out part as a high school rebel, "and I see so much potential. It's got such amazing music."

Hear it for the boy, still humbled by the prospect of slipping into an icon's shoes. "It would be an honor to go and make that film again, and sort of try to add my own little bit of flair to it."

Time marches on but is it taking a dance step forward? There's the upcoming "Seventeen," in which Efron's efforts will finally have him ticketed as an adult.

Of course, the adult he portrays is wrapped in the body of a 17-year-old.

Saved by the bell — or trapped by it? He's already avoided the sophomore jinx, so why cut class — and he doesn't dis any of his experiences, truly grateful for what he's achieved and the opportunities afforded him — when he's already the class act of adolescent adoration — making the grade with his Bachelor's of Stardom. 



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