Joy is the word for the producer and cast of Fox’s “Grease Live.”
Cast members and producer Marc Platt were bubbly and as they discussed the ambitious live staging of the beloved musical, which will unfold on several locations, indoor and outdoor, on the Warner Bros. lot on Jan. 31. Julianne Hough, Aaron Tveit, Carly Rae Jepsen, Vanessa Hudgens and Carlos Penavega limn the key roles of Sandy, Danny, Frenchy, Rizzo and Kenickie in the 1950s-set high school romancer.
“We all feel so lucky,” Platt said. “There is such joy and exuberance every day. We feel lucky for the opportunity. There is such a joyous esprit de corp” among the group.
Director Thomas Kail, fresh from Broadway’s smash hit “Hamilton,” is promising a re-imaging of musical and dance numbers for a new generation. That includes a new song for Frenchy, “All I Need Is an Angel,” penned by “If/Then” and “Next to Normal” duo of Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey.
The telecast will use a split screen, and cameras will capture behind the scenes activity that will be sprinkled into the broadcast. Bleachers for live audiences will be erected in several locations on the lot. “We’ll be able to show it in the vernacular of the way television is happening now,” Platt said.
John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John starred in the hit 1978 film rendition of the musical. Those two are not likely to show up in the live staging but two others from the film Didi Conn (who played Frenchy) and Barry Pearl (Doody) will get cameos, Platt said. Travolta and Newton-John have expressed their support for the project. “I know they’ll be watching on the evening of” the production, Platt said.
Hough said she was moved by spending time recently with Newton-John. “I hope to make her proud,” Hough said.
Kail and other cast members emphasized that “Grease” was one of the first musical theater productions they were exposed to, and one of the properties that sparked their desire to work on the stage. Kail said it’s gratifying for them to be able to tackle the production in a venue that has the potential to be seen by many millions of people, and possibly ignite that same interest in a kid or two.
“We’re sharing this with the kid in Spokane and the kid in Peoria,” Kail said. “We want to pay our respect this thing that moved many of us to be doing this.”
Kail and others expressed their appreciation for Fox’s investment in the elaborate effort, something they hope other networks will emulate. NBC kicked off the mania for live musical events three years ago with “The Sound of Music Live” staging that stunned the biz by drawing some 18 million viewers.
“Broadway doesn’t have to be a bad word,” Kail said. “It would be a wonderful world if (networks) were doing live musicals and plays six times a year.” Cast member Andrew Call said he felt fortunate to be part of the “resurgence of the American theater.”
Cast members spoke about the camaraderie that has developed during the rehearsal process for the one-night-only event. At one point the group broke into a few lines of “We Go Together” from the tuner. Keke Palmer said she and Jepsen regularly cry during rehearsals, which have been under way since November.
No matter what happens on Jan. 31, Platt said he’s confident the audience will sense the amount of passion and hard work that has gone into the production.
“That’s going to pour forth from the screen to audiences around the country,” he said.