You can’t stop the beat of network television as they continue to produce musicals. The latest is an NBC offering of “Hairspray Live!,” the story of Baltimore native Tracy Turnblad whose dream is to dance on a local TV show.
This follows NBC productions of “The Sound of Music,” “The Wiz” and “Peter Pan,” while FOX has broadcast TV versions of “Grease” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” ABC is working on “Dirty Dancing.”
Each production has grown in scale since “The Sound of Music” was performed on small soundstage sets. Massive sets were built for “Rocky Horror,” while “Grease” was performed indoors and outdoors. “Hairpsray Live!” will originate from Universal Studios Hollywood where the action will take place inside and on the outdoor sets around the movie studio lot.
This is the fourth musical produced by Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, who were also producers of the 2007 feature film version of the stage production. The pair have been reinventing how musicals are presented on TV since “The Sound of Music” in 2013.
This is the fourth musical produced by Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, who were also producers of the 2007 feature film version. The pair have been reinventing how musicals are presented on TV since “The Sound of Music” in 2013.
“We were figuring it out as we went along. So we were learning things from the ones we did. We learned things from ‘Grease,’ so I think with each iteration of it, we look at the material and see what it demands. And I don’t think there’s any sort of thought behind making it bigger, bigger, bigger. It’s about what does this show really demand and deserve,” Meron says.
Kenny Leon, who directed “The Wiz Live!,” is directing “Hairspray Live!” He has found both productions to be generally the same in size and scope. But when he directed “The Wiz,” Leon went with a more contained proscenium approach. In the case of “Hairspray Live!,” the script calls for multiple times where the production will move outdoors.
One thing the TV version of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical calls for is a major cast that includes Harvey Fierstein, Jennifer Hudson, Ariana Grande, Kristin Chenoweth, Martin Short, Derek Hough, Dove Cameron, Garrett Clayton, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Ephraim Sykes, Sean Hayes, Andrea Martin and Rosie O’Donnell.
As with the feature film, the role of the dance-crazy Tracy has gone to an unknown actor, Maddie Baillio. This is her first professional job.
“This was my first audition outside of college and school. So I decided at like 3 a.m. the night before of the big open call in New York City that I was going to go out and go do it,” Baillio says. “There were over 1,300 girls there, and I was number 344, and after four callbacks, I got the part.
“And now I’m with this incredible cast, these people that I’ve looked up to for so long, so it’s like the ultimate master class for me.”
Now I’m with this incredible cast, these people that I’ve looked up to for so long, so it’s like the ultimate master class for me.
Actress Maddy Baillio, who plays Tracy Turnblad
Just like how the producers and director have to balance scenes shot inside and outside, they also have come up with balance in the casting. This is Baillio’s first big role, but they have cast Fierstein to reprise his role as Edna Turnblad. The gravel-voiced actor won a Tony for his portrayal of Tracy’s mom.
Although he played Edna for years, Fierstein expects this version to be different just because he’s doing it for television.
Getting to this place took a lot of work as Meron and Zadan had to fight to get “The Sound of Music” on the air. At the time, the feeling was that no one was interested in musical theater and a TV version would have even less appeal.
But “The Sound of Music” attracted 22 million viewers, a huge number for a TV show these days.
Zadan says, “We realized that something has happened. Thank God that people have been watching it and are watching it, and it’s given us the opportunity, and now other people the opportunity, to create these shows on network television.”
As long as the ratings hold up, there will be more musicals presented on network television. Most shows can be staged for TV, but there is at least one show that will never make it to network TV : “Oh! Calcutta.” The stage musical features nudity.
“I think that the way we’ve done these musicals, they are very family oriented. We want the whole family together to watch it,” Zadan says. “So there are certain musicals that wouldn’t work in this context right before Christmas.”
- 8 p.m. Wednesday, KSEE24