“Let’s just hope it doesn’t rain.”
No, that’s not a quote from one of “Grease Live’s” executive producers — though it might well have been, early in the planning stages. This is sunny Southern California, after all.
Instead, it’s a cheeky line of dialogue that’s been inserted in the musical, in a winking nod to Sunday’s forecast, which calls for showers all day. “A live broadcast?,” jokes one character. “What if something goes wrong?”
But the show must go on, rain or shine. Saturday was the final dress rehearsal for the live broadcast of Fox’s one-night-only bold musical production, which airs Sunday night — and so the rain contingency plan was on the agenda for cast and crew. The expansive production — which sprawls across three stages on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, Calif. — includes an outdoor space, which has been transformed into a carnival for that climactic finale.
“It sucks that it could rain tomorrow,” says Bill Sindelar, who serves as the show’s warmup guy, cueing the live audience when to applaud, clap, dance and sway. “Everything is covered but the carnival scene.”
That includes the opening number, in which Jessie J belts “Grease is the Word” as she weaves indoors and out. No matter: Characters now dance with umbrellas, adding a charming pop of color to an already festive vibe. And as for that finale, stagehands hose down the ground to mimic Sunday night’s potentially slippery conditions.
Adds Paramount TV president Amy Powell, “We’ll film outside unless it’s a safety issue and only for the carnival scene. We’ll let the guilds decide.”
But no one is letting the forecast cloud their mood — the set is buzzing with exuberance. It may be a dress rehearsal, but the cast is giving it their all — belting, hoofing, hearts pounding. The biggest water problem they have on stage is all the sweat pouring from them.
No sooner do they finish an epic dance number than they bolt from the floor, racing between sets on golf carts. They don’t even have time to soak in the moment or bask in the applause. It’s all timed precisely — star Julianne Hough (Sandy) only has a minute and a half between the end of that famous high school dance before she has to croon “Hopelessly Devoted to You.” She has to do her costume change on the golf cart.
See More: Behind the Scenes of ‘Grease Live’
“This is our live show, in case something goes wrong tomorrow,” says Sindelar. “That’s why we’re painting our logo one hour before we go live.”
Yes, there’s one minor glitch: It’s an hour before the rehearsal’s scheduled start time, and the Rydell High logo in the center of the gym floor isn’t quite right. A painter is frantically trying to make sure the “R” is the right red. Except it’s not — it’s too bright. So he repaints it darker, while a stagehand stands over him with a blowdryer.
But it’s still not quite right, so he removes it with turpentine, and tries again with a seal. And then another. Finally at 4:06 p.m., now working with a team of seven, it’s finally done. Welcome to live(ish) TV.
Meanwhile, director Tommy Kail has already greeted the crowd. “We’ve been putting in changes up until about six minutes ago,” he admits with a laugh.
Unlike the NBC musicals (“The Wiz,” “Peter Pan”), Fox’s production boasts a live audience, 650 strong — who are singing and swaying along. (“Just don’t do the hand jive,” cautions Sindelar. “It’s too hard.”) Armies of teens have been recruited to fill the bleachers, including a group from UCLA’s Delta Gamma sorority, who were thrilled to report it was more interactive than they anticipated. “Two of the guys tried to teach us how to do the new hand jive,” says one. “And during the dancing scene, we got to dance, too.”
The cast clearly feeds off their energy. Aaron Tveit (Danny Zuko) plays to and with the crowd often, both on- and off-camera. It’s as infectious as the hand jive. No spoilers, but the dance scene is a showstopper.
During commercial breaks, some of the extras clown around: showing off tricks with a basketball, mugging for the audience, taking selfies on set. Even Boyz II Men — the “Teen Angels” — couldn’t resist snapping a photo.
More than just punchy one-liners have been added to the crowdpleaser: Frenchy (Carly Rae Jepsen) has a new solo, Marty (Keke Palmer) makes a memorable costume change, and there are other tweaks and surprises in store, giving even the ’50s-set musical a modern twist. Watch for Kail’s (“Hamilton”) clever, innovative choreography: These T-Birds and Pink Ladies can boogie.
By the time “We Go Together” finally comes along, everyone’s singing together en masse — cast and audience. There’s a collective high-five and a shout: “Grease live!” And it’s a wrap.