The lively cast and executive producers behind Fox’s upcoming Grease: Live brought a much-needed dose of summer lovin‘ to the dog days of the Television Critics Association winter press tour.
Appearing in Pasadena to plug their live musical production of the beloved play and film, the cast, led by Aaron Tveit as Danny and Julianne Hough as Sandy, broke out into song – “We Go Together,” natch – and also brought new details on the ambitious production.
Grease stars Didi Conn and Barry Pearl, who played Frenchy and Doody, respectively, in the 1978 film have joined the ensemble.
“It was important for us to…pay respect to this thing that moved us, many of us, to end up doing this so we had a chance to reach out and have some of these members from the original cast who also were in some of the stage versions of it,” director Thomas Kail told reporters.
In a “special twist,” Conn will play Vi, the waitress at the local malt shop who interacts with Frenchy, now played by pop singer Carly Rae Jepsen.
“We do have a moment where we have the generations staring at each other and having this really wonderful scene, and that was pretty thrilling to watch, to say the least, and incredibly moving for all of us,” Kail said.
Although original film stars John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John will not take part in the revival, executive producer Marc Platt revealed he has been in touch with both. “They’ve both been enormously supportive and sent a lot of love, at least I’ve gotten from them. They’re very excited because for them, Grease is such an iconic part of each of their careers,” Platt said. “They’re very excited about it, and I know they’ll both be watching on the evening of.”
Following in the trend started by NBC with ratings hits like The Sound of Music and more recently The Wiz, Fox will attempt its first live musical with Grease. “You get one shot at it, and the reality is life happens and people start performing and things morph and change,” Kail said of preparing for the live shoot. “You just have to prepare as best you can.”
Tveit, known for his extensive Broadway credits in addition to his work on shows like Graceland and Gossip Girl, praised the recent advent of live musicals to bring Broadway to the rest of the country.
“I think its an exciting time, that these live musical events have done so well. There aren’t a lot of programs that a whole family can sit down together and watch and enjoy,” he said.
Although Grease has some lyrics and topics – such as Rizzo’s pregnancy – that might not be quite as PG as The Sound of Music was, Platt promises it “will be a very family-friendly show, but with the appropriate edge that it needs to have.”
Unlike NBC’s past productions, however, there will be a live studio audience present. “The audience is actually designed into the sets, and there are many, many sets, so they may be characters,” Platt said. “Its just one of the ideas we’re doing to burst open the genre of live television.”
In the interest of doing “the best version of Grease that fits live television,” according to Platt, this production will combine some elements that were specific to the movie and other aspects that were only in the play – such as including songs from the production that didn’t make it to the big screen, like “Those Magic Changes” and “Freddy, My Love,” and “combining them into an experience that we think works for live television,” Platt said.
Added Kail: “One of the things that we’re excited about is we get a chance to take this film and this stage play that we love so much, and that was so important to all of us, and try to honor it and serve it up and find a new audience.”
The cast applauded the new take on the classic production. “What these two have done is take everything that you like, everything that you love, and flipped it on its head,” Keke Palmer, who plays Marty, said.
That also extends behind the scenes, with interactive elements added to appeal to today’s demographic, such as second screen, to “show you what’s really happening behind the scenes” as production is happening, Platt said. “At the same time, we’re going to deliver what Grease is: exuberant, energy, music, dance and joy.”
Grease: Live airs Sunday, Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. on Fox.