As the theater industry grapples with the ongoing tumult of COVID-19, a new Disney+ movie is giving families a chance to enjoy the dazzle of pre-pandemic Broadway from the comfort of their living room.
“Better Nate Than Ever” is a passion project for writer and director Tim Federle, who Disney+ viewers may recognize as the creator of “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.” Adapted by Federle from his own 2013 novel, the musical uses the bustling streets and unforgiving audition halls of New York City as the settings for a whimsical, LGBTQ coming-of-age tale.
(Watch the trailer for “Better Nate Than Ever” above.)
“Certainly 10 years ago, I never would have imagined this would be a love letter to a struggling industry,” Federle, now based in Los Angeles, told HuffPost. “I also wasn’t sure a family movie with a gay protagonist would be made, honestly. A number of studios told me the same thing that said, ‘Love the book, really fun , super relatable”. Did you think about making the main character a girl, or maybe not queer? And it was such a no-no, because for me, a central aspect of my growing up was realizing my future as a gay person, which was so connected to my identity as a young theater kid.
“Better Nate Than Ever,” which debuted on Disney+ earlier this month, follows Nate Foster (played by Rueby Wood), a precocious seventh grader whose big dreams and acting skills make him out of place in his hometown in suburban Pennsylvania.
After being passed over for the lead role in the school play, Nate and his best friend, Libby (Aria Brooks), discover an open casting call for the Broadway adaptation of “Lilo & Stitch.” To attend the New York audition, the two pals must hatch a plan to avoid getting caught by older brother Nate’s jock, Anthony (Joshua Bassett), while their parents are away on a weekend trip. end.
Luckily, Nate finds a kindred spirit in his aunt Heidi (Lisa Kudrow), a struggling actress herself. What follows is a wild adventure that nods to 1980s comedies like “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Adventures in Babysitting.” This may also be the first time one of Dixie Carter’s “Designing Women” speeches has been used as an audition monologue.
“Better Nate Than Ever” was the first in a trilogy of books loosely based on Federle’s professional experiences as a Broadway dancer and associate choreographer. For the role of Nate, he and the creative team were looking for a young actor who would capture the character’s “effervescence and innocence”. Wood, an Oswego, New York, native with no prior television or film experience, won the role after seven callbacks. Broadway veterans like Brooks Ashmanskas, Norbert Leo Butz and Priscilla Lopez step into supporting roles and ground the film in theatrical authenticity.
According to Federle, “Better Nate Than Ever” aims to portray a young LGBTQ person “at the beginning of discovery, rather than the beginning of statement” and as such references to Nate’s sexuality are mostly indirect. . (The character confidently identifies as gay in 2018’s “Nate Expectations,” the third book in the series.)
Yet, as multiple outlets have pointed out, the film comes as Disney faces an outpouring of backlash for its checkered response to Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act ― or “Don’t don’t say gay” ―. The Daily Beast picked up on the film’s seemingly auspicious timing, praising “Nate” as “the most gay-friendly, supportive kids’ show Disney has ever released,” before noting, “And it’s coming out at the right time. weirder.”
Highlighting the various characters and storylines in “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” Federle insists that Disney “has always been supportive of me, and the type of things I want to do,” and thinks the company of entertainment is committed to doing better.
“At its best, Disney is the company of hope, optimism, love, family, joy and escape,” he said. “Representation doesn’t nullify bad legislation, but two things can be true at the same time. And I think representation matters.
“Better Nate Than Ever” is streaming now on Disney+.