Larry Saperstein is playing his dream role as Big Red on High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. It allows him to do everything he loves as a performer all in one show. “I get to be in a comedy show that’s a sitcom like The Office and Parks and Rec,” he says. “It’s a Disney show about High School Musical, and then I also get to sing and dance. It has everything.”
This role was a breakthrough one for Saperstein, who prior to this had done a number of short films, a cameo on First Wives Club, and Freeform’s Fan Girl with Chilling Adventures of Sabrina actress, Kiernan Shipka. He initially began acting on stage in the community theatres near Islip, NY, where Saperstein was born and raised.
“When I was growing up, everybody in my family did community theatre so it was me, my mom, my dad,” he explains. “We did all kinds of shows around Long Island. I did shows at the Engeman Theater, which is in Northport, Long Island, and a few other community theatres around Long Island. That was really where I learned to love being on stage.”
Once he got to middle school and high school, he began venturing out to New York City for auditions. He says, “It was really wonderful being on Long Island and having the support of Long Island theatre, but then also being so close to New York, which is the height of theatre, and getting to really just learn and be on stage.”
The actor, who is currently based in Los Angeles, is also a professional tap dancer, which he had trained for since he was 11 years old at the American Tap Dance Foundation in downtown Manhattan. “They are more rooted in tap dance history,” he says. “That’s how they train their students so I learned so much about influential tap dance figures like Gregory Hines and Bill Robinson and Buster Brown and like all these people that have been so important to the development of tap dance and you kind of learn through their styles as well. I spent so much of my life working there and dancing there and they’ve been so amazing with turning me into the tap dancer that I am today.”
Saperstein graduated in 2020 from Pace University in New York where he studied Production and Design for Stage and Screen. During college, he began dabbling in professional acting. He had a cameo on season one of First Wives Club where he got to bond with actress Michelle Buteau, and a role in the indie horror/comedy film, Porno.
“It was very interesting because it was like this commentary on society,” he says of Porno. “It turned out to be a really great cult movie that I think people really responded to. It was so fun because we did all this special effects makeup and all of the blood and the prosthetics. I’m not sure if horror movies are really my thing to watch but it was a blast to make it.”
It was during this time as well that Saperstein landed his role as Big Red on Disney’s hit TV show, exclusively streaming on Disney+, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. He plays the best friend of the male protagonist, played by Joshua Bassett. Joshua’s character, Ricky, is trying to get back with his ex-girlfriend, played by none other than Olivia Rodrigo, who is doing the school play, so he enlists the help of Big Red and the two find themselves immersed in the theatre program at their school and fall in love with it.
“I love that I've sort of learned a good bit about screenwriting and I think I have stories to share about how I grew up and my experiences and I hope that I can do more of that and tell more of the stories as I continue on.”
The show is now on its highly anticipated second season. While COVID-19 had impacted filming a bit, they were able to work through it. This time, Big Red is not just a stage manager, but he actually auditions to be in the musical, which is Beauty and the Beast, a play that Saperstein is really familiar with as he’d done it twice during his theatre days growing up.
“I did at 10 years old. I played Chip,” Saperstein reflects. “And then I did it again my freshmen year of high school. I played Lumiere. So doing Beauty and the Beast as part of the show is really nostalgic for me because of how many times I’ve done the real production in my life. It’s really cool to relive that as like another character in this professional setting as part of this amazing, huge show.”
And a huge show it is. It was all anyone on social media, whether they were Gen-Z or millennials, could talk about when it initially premiered on the streaming platform. Speaking of returning to set for the second season, Saperstein says, “It was so great, especially after season one was the phenomenon that it was and people really responding to it so much and loving what we did. Getting to go back and do it again and tell more stories, I think we were all really excited about it. And getting to see more from our characters and their experiences and see where they go in this next semester was really great.”
Saperstein’s character develops a lot from season one to season two. He finds himself loving the theatre group, being on stage, and he also gets into a relationship with his classmate, Ashlyn, played by Julia Lester. “It’s really amazing to see how he is growing in a relationship, which is the first relationship he’s ever been in,” he says. “What it’s like for him to be romantic and sweet and go through all of that. It’s an amazing development for any person but it’s amazing to have been able to play that
One of his favourite episodes to film would definitely have to be episode 3, which was the Valentine’s Day episode. “I really love the ‘Red Means Love Day’ of shooting, which was the big dance number with me and Julia Lester,” he admits. “That was a really amazing, fun day just because we had done so much prep work for it, and then having it be what it was at the end and seeing the awesome final product that we’re so proud of was really, really cool. We got to watch it with the whole cast, which is always so special. I remember when we all watched the pilot episode for the first time last year. It was so special because we had been working on season one of the show for so long and then it was just us in the cast and we got to sit and watch.”
While there hasn’t been news yet on if there will be a third season, Saperstein is hopeful that it will happen. In the meantime, he’s been diving into another passion of his which is screenwriting. He says, “I think that especially in 2021, most people really have to be able to do everything. And so I love that I’ve sort of learned a good bit about screenwriting and I think I have stories to share about how I grew up and my experiences and I hope that I can do more of that and tell more of the stories as I continue on.”
He’s also been jamming out to co-star Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album SOUR. His favourite track off the album is ‘jealousy, jealousy’ as he’d heard it when she’d recorded the first cut of it. “She said that she didn’t like it and she wanted to cut it off the album and I said, ‘no, this is a great song and you have to do more with it and keep it going and see what it becomes’,” he laughs. “And then the fact that it made it onto the album was really great. So I feel like I had a part in helping that song get on the album.”
You can now stream episodes of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series on Disney+.