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“I’m famous for the show a block away,” joked Lin-Manuel Miranda at New York City’s Edison Ballroom, where the Hamilton creator stood onstage on Monday night to host a panel for the making of Grease: Live, the Fox musical event that earned 10 Emmy nominations (while lighting up Twitter) and was helmed by his Hamilton director and longtime collaborator, Thomas Kail.
The Hollywood Reporter recaps the eight things revealed during the hourlong discussion, which also featured television director Alex Rudzinski, casting director Bernard Tesley, costume designer William Ivey Long and the musical’s star, Aaron Tveit — whom Miranda said “manages to get the entire internet pregnant at the same time.”
1. Kail booked the gig by pitching various notable elements of the broadcast, such as incorporating a live audience, an opening number that went behind the scenes and numbers that embraced the original stage show’s theatricality. “Let’s celebrate the joy of making this thing,” he said of his early conversations with the producers. “Let’s celebrate the people you see onscreen and those you don’t.” The final number would be a massive curtain call: “Look what they’ve done, let them bow.”
2. The hardest scene to stage? The car race, of course, which was shot with two stationary vehicles and a slew of lighting and motion techniques. But that wasn’t always the plan. Ideas that didn’t make the cut were using miniature matchbox cars, or shooting on the actual Los Angeles streets and just “hoping the LAPD police will allow us to do that,” said Rudzinski. Kail added of the latter, “I was worried about Aaron’s hair — very expensive hair!”
3. The cast was ready for the rainy weather that occurred during the live shoot. “Marc Platt warned about a Godzilla El Nino very early on,” recalled Kail, who brushed off the notion. “But the rain was sideways at 8 a.m.” Tveit explained of the broadcast, “Fifteen minutes before we went live, we had rehearsed the B version of the opening, rain-friendly. Two minutes before, they changed their mind: ‘Back to the real one!’”
4. The toughest part about casting the production was not incorporating diversity into a show set within a specific period. “It’s still a live musical, and these people have to sing. It’s not like a movie where they can get a little help,” said Tesley. “That became the biggest education process, getting them to understand.”
5. Long explained how Keke Palmer’s memorable “Freddy, My Love” wardrobe changes came to be. “That’s even better than a commercial break,” said the costume designer, who had worked with Palmer in Broadway’s Cinderella, which also included a magical gown change onstage. At first, Long was “horrified” that Rudzinski wanted to include Palmer changing back from the red gown to her pajamas. “Like they don’t think we can do it? But Alex said, ‘No, we want to let them in on the joke.’ … That was so darn clever.”
6. The live taping was only the fifth time they had run the show in full, and their third show with an audience. Tveit compared the experience to delivering an expert, well-rehearsed performance, as if a Broadway show were six weeks into its run — but on opening night.
7. Miranda had the panel screen the dialogue-less, dance-filled “Hand Jive” number, of which Kail said he was most proud: “The storytelling is so clear.” Just before that scene, a special camera crane used in a previous shot was brought in during the commercial break, and required two of the gymnasium’s walls to be moved in under three minutes.
8. The final sequence was up to Rudzinski to stage, said Kail. “If you look in the very back, it’s me and Marc [Platt] on top of a truck!”
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