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NBC Plans ‘Hairspray’ as 2016 Live Musical Presentation

NBC has set its sights on “Hairspray” as its live musical production for 2016. NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt broke the news Wednesday morning at his Television Critics Association press tour presentation in Pasadena, Calif.

“Hairspray” will again by exec produced by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron who also produced the 2007 movie musical rendition of the 1988 John Waters pic about integration of black and white hoofers on a Baltimore TV dance show in 1962. Zadan and Meron have shepherded NBC’s past three live musicals, scoring last month with the staging of “The Wiz Live.”

NBC has been sorting out the rights issues to the musical and 2007 movie with Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema, which released the tuner starring Zac Efron, John Travolta, Nikki Blonsky, Queen Latifah and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Greenblatt didn’t have many more details to share about the project. He expects producers to hold open auditions to search for a “discovery” to play the lead role of Tracy Turnblad, limned by Blonsky in the movie, and to land a star for the role of Edna Turnblad, played by Travolta.

Greenblatt said “Hairspray” was chosen in part because of Zadan and Meron’s deep familiarity with the material and because “it’s just a fun show.” There had been speculation that NBC would try to mount “West Side Story” this year, but Greenblatt noted the rights to that seminal show are locked up at present by Steven Spielberg who is planning a new film version.

Greenblatt said the experience of watching 19-year-old Shanice Williams make a triumphant debut as the star of “Wiz Live” has encouraged producers to search for an unknown to lead “Hairspray.” That process probably won’t begin until the summer, he said.

Greenblatt said the process of pulling off the live holiday music has become more refined with each outing since they began in 2013 with “The Sound of Music,” a huge sleeper hit. “We’ve learned a lot — the first one we were flying by the seat of our pants and not sure if we could pull it off technically,” he said. “It gets easier as you keep doing them. We’ve spawned a new genre,” he said, nothing Fox’s live production of “Grease” set for Jan. 31.

“Hairspray” musical was written by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman — who worked with NBC on “Smash” — with a book by Thomas Meehan and Mark O’Donnell. NBC has been sorting out rights issues with Meehan and the estate of O’Donnell, who died in 2012. In announcing the selection of “Hairspray” Greenblatt quipped: “I hope the deals are done.”

The stage musical rendition of “Hairspray” starred Harvey Fierstein and Marissa Jaret Winokur. It ran on Broadway from 2002 through January 2009. The 1988 movie directed by Waters was the breakthrough role for actress-talk show host Ricki Lake.

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