'Grease Live!' Director Texted by 'Wiz Live!' Director During Telecast

'Wiz's' Kenny Leon offered his running critique to 'Grease' helmer Thomas Kail — yay to the "cinematic energy," nay to the Mario Lopez backstage updates — during the live Jan. 31. show.
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Kenny Leon

A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

While 325,000 people sent 1.1 million tweets during Fox's Grease: Live! broadcast Jan. 31, NBC's The Wiz Live! director Kenny Leon was texting his running critique to Grease helmer (and Hamilton director) Thomas Kail. "For that particular musical — how they shot it, how they did it on multiple stages — the cinematic energy he had was really great to watch," Leon told THR after a recent rehearsal of his new off-Broadway play Smart People, which explores race relations and stars Joshua Jackson and Tessa Thompson.

Leon admired Grease's opening number, which was sung by Jessie J, that introduced the set and cast (including Julianne Hough) in one continuous shot. However, "I didn't care so much about Mario Lopez between scenes [with backstage updates], but that's just me," he laughed.

Altogether, Leon says Kail "elevated the art form of musicals on live television, and that’s important. He did a great job and I was real proud of him, and proud of the industry. I love to see so many theater artists get an opportunity to tell a story differently."

With more networks entering the live-musical landscape — Fox's biblical The Passion hosted by Tyler Perry, Freeform's Dirty Dancing remake starring Abigail Breslin and NBC's fourth live musical, Hairspray — Leon (who "absolutely" would love to helm another), advised they invest to assemble the best creative team possible in an effort to prepare for the worst.

"It's much more challenging and difficult than it seems. You really have to have the amount of time and resources to allow you to make these creative choices to have it shine, because so much can go wrong on the night. It really is live."

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