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NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt made the announcement Thursday night during a Paley Center panel. “She came to us and said, ‘I love this movie and I’d love to do it,'” the exec revealed during the 45-minute discussion. Asked if she’d do it live, Lopez — who Greenblatt pointed out has a show in Las Vegas where she performs the song “Lot of Livin‘” from the musical — responded, “Absolutely.”
“Broadway musicals and films fueled my childhood and Bye Bye Birdie was one of my favorites. I’m proud to be a part of the NBC family with Shades of Blue and I thought it would be a blast to take on one of their big live musicals,” Lopez said in a statement.
The singer-actress-producer will star as Rosie and executive produce the Universal Television live musical alongside Nuyorican Productions’ Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas and her manager, Benny Medina. Also set to exec produce are NBC’s live musical masterminds Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (Hairspray, The Wiz, Peter Pan, The Sound of Music). The production will be written by Harvey Fierstein, who also wrote and will costar in the network’s upcoming holiday live musical Hairspray.
NBC’s Bye Bye Birdie Live will be based on the 1960 Tony-winning Broadway musical that starred Dick Van Dyke as Albert Peterson and Chita Rivera as Rosie. The book was written by Michael Stewart with lyrics by Lee Adams and music by Charles Strouse. Van Dyke took home a Tony for the role, while Rivera scored a nomination. The play was adapted into a 1963 Golden Globe-nominated feature film starring Van Dyke and Janet Leigh as Rosie. The film helped propel Ann-Margret, who played Kim MacAfee, to stardom.
Set at the height of rock ‘n’ roll, Bye Bye Birdie takes place in Sweet Apple, Ohio, where hip-thrusting music heartthrob Conrad Birdie is scheduled to give a lucky Sweet Apple lady “One Last Kiss” before being drafted into the Army. Conrad’s rock ‘n’ roll ways send the small town reeling, giving the teens Birdie fever, shocking the parents with moral indignation and placing songwriter-agent Albert Peterson along with his savvy sweetheart, Rosie, right in the thick of things. The story was inspired by Elvis Presley and his induction into the Army in 1957.
“To have a superstar like Jennifer Lopez starring in this classic show, which every high school in America has done, will ensure that our holiday musicals continue to be must-see events for the whole family,” added Greenblatt. “It was her idea to take on this classic singing and dancing role made famous by the legendary Chita Rivera, and we are so happy to oblige! This show has delighted audiences for generations with classic songs that include ‘Put on a Happy Face’ and ‘A Lot of Livin’ to Do,’ and this will be an extravagant production built around this big star.”
The live production extends NBC and Universal Television’s relationship with Lopez. She currently has a residency at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas where she performs 40 shows a year. Lopez also stars in NBC’s Shades of Blue, with its second season due in 2017. She also will exec produce and serve as a judge on NBC’s UTV reality competition series World of Dance. Lopez, who has a development deal with UTV, is readying futuristic bio-terror drama C.R.I.S.P.R. for NBC and has an untitled legal drama set up at CBS. She next will play drug lord Griselda Blanco in an HBO TV movie.
Lopez and Goldsmith-Thomas are repped by CAA.
For NBC, Bye Bye Birdie will mark its fifth holiday live musical event. Hairspray, starring Kristin Chenoweth, Jennifer Hudson and Fierstein, will air Dec. 7 on NBC. The network also is teaming with Aaron Sorkin to bring A Few Good Men to the network as a live event, which sources say is being eyed for an April debut, though no announcements about a premiere or timeframe other than a 2017 date have been made.
During the Paley Center panel, Greenblatt discussed how the idea for a live musical first came about. It popped into his head one morning when he was listening to Sirius’ Broadway channel (“Yes, I listen to the Sirius Broadway channel,” he deadpanned to laughs from the audience) on his way to work, and he heard Hugh Jackman sing “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” from Oklahoma. “I thought to myself, ‘What if we did a musical? It would work if we had a superstar in the lead,'” Greenblatt said, chalking the whole thing up to an “instinctual whim.”
That instinctual whim turned out to be a massive success when Carrie Underwood took on the lead in NBC’s live rendition of The Sound of Music. As someone with a theater background and well-known love of Broadway (“I call it my hobby,” Greenblatt said), the network exec admits he moved forward with the idea for rather selfish reasons. “The idea really excited me and I hoped to God it would excite other people, but I selfishly did it because I wanted to do it,” he said, adding that it was known as “Greenblatt’s folly” around the office until the day after it aired and he learned that 18.5 million people had tuned in.
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