High School Sweethearts

High School Sweethearts
Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens
Chris Pizzello/AP

08/23/2007 AT 12:00 PM EDT

As the 17 million fans who tuned in to the Aug. 17 premiere of High School Musical 2 know, the fictitious romance of East High students Troy and Gabriella is of the very old-fashioned sort; it took all the way through last year's blockbuster High School Musical and most of the sequel – the most watched show in cable TV history – for them to sneak in a first kiss.

Luckily, their real-life counterparts didn't have to wait so long. While they were shooting the first movie in 2005, a real-life romance quietly blossomed between teenage stars Zac Efron, 19, and Vanessa Hudgens, 18. And as they waited for a table on a busy Saturday night at Takashi restaurant in Salt Lake City, where they were filming HSM2 this spring, they were still going strong. "They were sitting on each other's laps and holding hands," says hostess Teal Gibo. "It was really cute."

Hello, Zanessa. For their millions of fans (yes, they've already given the couple a moniker), the young love between Efron and Hudgens just adds to the generation-riveting appeal of the HSM movies, the biggest thing to happen to teen love stories since Grease – minus Grease's smoking, drinking and teen pregnancy. The squeaky-clean Disney Channel movies have spawned the No. 1 album of 2006, a sold-out 42-arena concert tour, an ice showand now plans for a third installment to be released in theaters.

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