‘Hamilton’ Director Thomas Kail Talks ‘Grease Live’

Thomas Kail Fox Production Company
annie tritt for Variety

This year Thomas Kail is a contender for half an EGOT. He directed a little musical called “Hamilton,” a Tony frontrunner from the minute it opened, and his co-direction of Fox’s “Grease Live” looks poised to put him in the running for an Emmy. Variety spoke with Kail about his very big year.

Do you think the profile of musical theater has changed much between now and 2007, when you directed “In the Heights”?
There’s this widespread attention on Broadway right now. There’s something in the air. When “The Sound of Music” aired live on NBC, 18 million people were talking about theater the next day. That’s incredible. “Grease” felt like a chance for me to participate in that landscape.

That backstage-to-onstage opening sequence of “Grease Live” seemed to shake up some of the perceived conventions of live musicals.
I feel like “Grease” is a show that requires a certain kind of conversation with an audience, and the opening number felt like an opportunity. One of the things we talked about is that “Grease” is a party and everyone is invited. That’s the way that I felt when I first saw that movie. It seemed like there was a chance to use our opening number to establish our version of that.

How is “Hamilton” changing the course of your career?
I’m still in the early stages of discovering what it means. The thing that I know more than anything is that this show is going to be in my life, in terms of creating these various new productions as well as maintaining the Broadway company, for a long time. I have these time periods over the next couple of years when I’ll go and make the next companies. It gives me sort of an organizing principle for my life.

Did you always want to be a director?
As a kid I wanted to be a sportscaster. On the radio. I loved the idea of painting a picture. I didn’t want to be on TV. I wanted to be Jon Miller, who called all the Orioles games.

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