The Emmy race continued in earnest this week as ballots went out and studios continued ramping up the For Your Consideration events, but perhaps none was bigger than the blowout carnival Paramount set up on its lot Wednesday evening. It followed a one hour and fifteen-minute standing room only conversation I moderated with the cast and key creatives from Grease Live, the highly-rated and acclaimed live TV musical production of the iconic show which aired on Fox on a rain-drenched Sunday January 31st.
The weather was perfect though for Paramount and Fox TV’s outdoor shindig with Emmy voters standing in long lines to ride the ferris wheel and play games. This event follows one at the DGA earlier in the month where the cast of another live TV musical, The Wiz Live which aired in December on NBC, got up and sang numbers from their show for Emmy voters.
Grease cast member David Del Rio came closest to doing that when the actors were asked which song they can’t get out of their head. Another Grease Live star Vanessa Hudgens started singing “We Go Together”. They were joined by cast members Julianne Hough, Kether Donohue, Carly Rae Jepsen, Jordan Fisher and Andrew Call on the 12-member panel’s front row, while the back row consisted of Executive Producer Marc Platt, Director Thomas Kail, Production Designer David Korins, Choreographer Zach Woodlee and Music Director Tom Kitt, a killer row of creatives in the musical realm of movies, theatre and now live TV thanks to Grease, which turned out to be a multi-major studio effort as it was produced by Paramount (which released the original film in 1978), aired on Fox and shot at Warner Bros.
Kail and Korins had just flown in from New York where their now-legendary show Hamilton swept the Tonys. Kail, who took Best Director for that show was still on a high from the night, and is now going for an Emmy for his direction of Grease Live to match his Tony — all in the same year. Korins was Tony nominated for his production design of Hamilton but also was one of the show’s only losses (to She Loves Me) out of their record 16 nominations.
He has a chance for a rebound at the Emmys for his clever set design which helped make the near-impossible task of shooting on outdoor and indoor sets possible. Kitt has a Tony pedigree of his own, having won the Pulitzer Prize as well as two Tonys for Next To Normal. The Grease crew and cast told how they rehearsed nine weeks for the one-night-only show, but clearly were demonstrating camaraderie like they had been doing this show for years when they hit the stage Wednesday in the Paramount Theatre. One big subject that came up was the highly unusual almost hurricane-like weather that struck Southern California on the day of the show. In fact there were even fears the weather could have KO’d Fox’s plans to go live, but a contingency which everyone had to rehearse that day was hurriedly set up with an alternative for the outdoor sequences. The cast was only told about an hour before going live which version they would be doing. Woodlee quickly came up with a way to incorporate umbrellas into Jessie J’s opening number of the title song. Korins talked of his panic when he learned at the last minute he had to come up with 75 camera-ready umbrellas. But in the true tradition of show business the production, as originally planned, went on without a hitch, one of TV’s more impressive technical feats this season.
Platt, who has to be one of the busiest producers around, told me he will soon be heading to London to shoot his and Disney’s Mary Poppins sequel starring Emily Blunt and, continuing the Hamilton connection of the evening, Lin Manuel Miranda. Platt first worked with Blunt in his and Rob Marshall’s musical adaptation of Into The Woods in 2014. And he has just wrapped another film with her, Universal’s awards contender The Girl On The Train. He confirmed reports I have heard that she blows everyone away with this performance. Sounds like a certain Oscar magnet for the yet-to-be-nominated star.
In fact I was talking to composer Danny Elfman at the Alice Through The Looking Glass premiere last month and he had just spent his first day spotting the film for his music score. Elfman told me that after seeing the movie he decided Blunt’s performance was so powerful he would limit or even remove some of the music he originally planned for her scenes. “I told the director Tate Taylor that she is just too good. She doesn’t need it, which is a rare thing for me to do in composing films,” he said. Platt has that movie for October, Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk for Sony in November, and the original movie musical La La Land from Lionsgate in December starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. That was just announced earlier today as the opening night of the upcoming Venice Film Festival which will kick off the awards season this fall. Platt is very high on the prospects for director Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to his indie hit Whiplash.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that he was a force in bringing this new, re-imagined version of Grease to television, as he has a long career record of promoting musicals in all mediums, having produced the aforementioned hit Into The Woods and Nine in movies, as well as Carol Burnett’s Once Upon A Mattress previously for TV. His Broadway giant Wicked just passed its 5000th performance and is now – finally – headed to the big screen, he said, gearing up for it after he finishes the Mary Poppins project. In fact the next day after we spoke, Universal dated the film version for December of 2019. “We are ready to proceed with the Wicked movie. It’s a very cinematic kind of property,” he told me. Platt just landed his first Best Picture nomination earlier this year for Steven Spielberg’s Bridge Of Spies which won the Oscar for Supporting Actor Mark Rylance.
As for a possible sequel or another live TV musical for this talented group Platt was succinct but mysterious. “Conversations are ongoing. That’s all I can say,” he offered. But right now for him, the newly crowned Hamilton Tony victors, and everyone else who pulled this rain-drenched show off, Grease is the word and they are hoping Emmy voters remember it when filling out their ballot.
Photos courtesy of Fox