Grease was the word on everyone’s lips Monday morning. Fox’s three-hour live production not only brought in rave reviews — particularly for Thomas Kail’s ambitious direction — but also delivered stellar ratings, beating NBC’s The Wiz and Peter Pan broadcasts with a 4.3 rating among adults 18-49.
But for the many highs, there were also lows. There was the technical snafu that knocked out audio during Julianne Hough’s big solo, “Hopelessly Devoted” during the east coast broadcast. There was the weather, which knocked out power in 22,000 homes in the Los Angeles area. And star Vanessa Hudgens delivered arguably one of the show’s most moving numbers with “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” just a day after her father succumbed to stage 4 cancer.
After a rollercoaster night, to say the least, executive producer Marc Platt jumped on the phone with The Hollywood Reporter to discuss the opening song scramble an hour before showtime, Hudgens’ “fierce” spirit in the wake of tragedy and whether he and Kail will return for another live musical.
The show got great reviews and big ratings, so how are you feeling this morning?
I’m thrilled for everybody involved. All of these live events, particularly these live musicals are such challenging undertakings for anybody who does it and given all the elements you have to content with, which makes it exciting behind the camera and in front of the camera, but anything from weather and wind and rain to just the live-ness of the event, and we had a live audience and we had many sets and many locations — that it all worked so well and the joy we had in performing it was clearly felt by people around the country has made us really all delighted this morning.
What was the toughest part of the night?
The toughest part of the night was probably dealing with the weather because when we came on Sunday, it was a very brutally windy and stormy day and we were outside and we were under a structure for part of it. Parts in front of the Rydell High School were under a structure that was built just for this presentation to protect against the rain but it was raining so hard and it was so windy that the engineers didn’t think we’d be able to use it. Safety is obviously always first. And so there was concern for that. In fact, we were so concerned that the Jessie J. number which ends under that structure, we weren’t going to be able to perform as we had wanted to and so, literally at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, an hour before airtime, we got the cast together and Jessie J. and we staged that opening number because we didn’t think we were going to be able to use the structure. We had a B plan and we went and did that, and thankfully, literally at 3:50 [p.m.], the rain stopped, the wind died down, we were given the OK and we herded the audience into their bleachers and went back to the A plan, but that was a pretty scary moment.
We saw those umbrellas in the opening number. What other changes did you have to make because of the weather?
Yes, we knew there were things that we weren’t going to do. For example, we were always going to go to the carnival even in the rain because we thought it would be fun in the rain at the end of the show, but we wouldn’t have used the rides had the winds been so strong. Or we would have also cut cranes that we used for high camera angles for some of our more cinematic moments we were trying to employ — we had to give those up as well and we were prepared to do so. The reason we had built that structure in the first place was because we were planning for this many, many months ago. We knew that there was El Nino in the forecast for winter in Los Angeles in 2016 so that’s why we built it in the first place. We didn’t anticipate how high the winds would be yesterday; thankfully we were able to use it anyway but it was intended to protect against the rain. So we had plans in mind and we were determined to go rain or shine. And thankfully, it worked out really, really well.
We were sadly confronted with the news that Vanessa Hudgens lost her dad the night before so that threw us for a loop, but she’s a trooper. I’m so proud of her. She was not going to let anything deter from going on. She was able to put her sadness in a box for a few hours and use that to fuel her performance which we then dedicated to the memory of her dad. That was very emotional for us. It’s so hard to pull any of these musicals off — and the fact that we had so many locations and such a large crew and so many cameras and such a large cast — but it was a real community effort from beginning to end and that’s what made it particularly joyful for us. Grease is so much about joy and youth and energy, I hope that’s what everybody at home felt as they were watching the telecast.
Speaking of Vanessa, was there ever talk of having someone fill in for her? As a producer, how did you make sure she was OK to go on?
She’s a pro. She’s worked onstage before and she knows the show must go on even in times of sadness. She was fierce and she was determined and I think that it showed in her performance. … Nothing was going to stop her from going on. We did bring her mom to the telecast so she could watch the east coast feed on the Warner [Bros.] lot so she was there. She said to me after the show, “This was really a celebration.” So I’m very proud of the girl.
During the east coast performance, there were some audio issues. What caused that?
You know, I don’t know all the particulars. I know there was static, I know there was wind, I know there were mic issues, I know they were all corrected as we were able to move forward. I never got to the bottom of all the technical things, but everybody plowed forward. You have no choice, do you? And it got corrected, thankfully, and so we move on. It’s what makes live events scary but fun behind the camera and in front of the camera — why I think there’s, hopefully, a continuing future and evolution of the format because we live in a world with social media. … So the glitches that occur are part of the story in a way, part of the event itself, and so it goes. We embraced it and did the best we could and moved forward.
You said before you wouldn’t be interested in producing another musical for Fox, but after how well everything went last night, would you reconsider?
I have no thoughts of that at the moment. For me, it’s so much about what the material is and if I think I can bring something to it that continues to develop this great format of live musicals on television. So we’ll see what the future brings.
Is there a particular musical that you would want to do?
My head has been so filled with Grease that to think of any other musical. … I’ll give myself a day and then I’ll start thinking and let you know.
There’s already talk on Twitter this morning about a possible Grease 2 …
Thomas Kail received a lot of praise specifically for his direction. What conversations did you have with him after the show?
We went out to the carnival while it was still at the very, very end of it, Tommy and I, and we climbed up on those golf carts that you saw took the cast from stage to the carnival and just looked out over this sea of people and our cast dancing so exuberantly. We just looked at each other and had a moment. These are such challenging, ambitious projects and they take a lot of time and a lot of investment and a lot of hard, hard work. If you don’t enjoy and love the journey of it as much as the result of it, then it’s a really hard thing to do. Tommy and I loved the journey from beginning to end and so we looked at each other and had a moment that was in some ways unspoken but definitely acknowledged that we achieved what we set out to do, which always feels good.
He’s going to work on something else now as well but do you see him coming back to do another live musical on TV?
I think I might have gotten a text from Tommy Kail that said, “What next?”