MTV dances with 'Mall' crowd

Network tunes up new musical from 'HSM' producers

MTV is looking to make a splash in the original musical arena with "The American Mall."

The project, from "High School Musical" producers Bill Borden and Barry Rosenbush, will premiere in the summer on the cable network, followed immediately by a release on DVD.

Bulgarian-born actress Nina Dobrev and Rob Mayes lead the ensemble cast of the musical, a romantic comedy-drama set at a mall that centers on high school graduate Ally (Dobrev), a singer-songwriter battling to save her mother's music store and to keep the boy she loves, Joey (Mayes), a musically gifted young janitor who fronts a garage band.

Autumn Reeser will play Ally's mean-girl adversary Madison, the spoiled and ruthless heiress to the owners of the mall who tries to shut down the music store and steal Ally's boy.

Wade Allain-Marcus, Bianca Collins, Rodney To, Neil Haskell, Brooke Lyons, David Baum, Blythe Auffarth, Yassmin Alers, Bresha Webb, Neil Haskell and Al Sapienza round out the cast of the film, which will begin shooting in late January at a mall in Provo, Utah.

Choreographer and stage director Shawn Ku, who made his film directorial debut with the quirky musical Sundance short "Pretty Dead Girl," is directing.

Borden produces "Mall," with Rosenbush and Arata Matsushima serving as exec producers.

Borden and Rosenbush came up with the idea for "Mall" before "High School Musical" and originally developed it as a feature for Columbia Pictures.

But at the time, movie studios didn't have much interest in original musicals not based on a Broadway property, Borden said. That all changed after "High School" exploded. There were a number of suitors for "Mall," but "MTV beat them to the punch," Borden said.

"For us it's a great project because we get to explore a different type of music — it is still pop but skews older — and we get to deal with different issues," he said.

From the moment MTV brass heard the pitch for "Mall," "we all thought this was a much bigger project than a film for TV," said Jeff Yapp, executive vp program enterprises at MTV Music Group.

Instead, the film will be launched through the business model employed for such MTV films as "Super Sweet 16: The Movie" and "All You've Got," which premiered on the cable network and digital platforms, followed by a DVD release a couple of days later.

"It's a unique strategy where we can engage all the horsepower of the company and create a huge demand for the DVD," Yapp said.

"Mall" is being produced through Paramount-based direct-to-DVD division MTV Studios, which Yapp oversees.

MTV, which has created a series of pop culture stars on the reality side with such shows as "The Hills" and "A Shot at Love With Tila Tequila," is hoping to also break new talent with "Mall," which took four months to cast.

MTV's previous original musical, 2001's "Carmen: A Hip Hopera," marked the acting debut of Beyonce Knowles in the title role.

Reeser is repped by APA and Kritzer Levine Wilkins. Allain-Marcus is repped by Innovative and Handprint.