NBC chairman Robert Greenblatt and Hairspray composer Marc Shaiman were in attendance at the annual Actors Fund gala April 25 where they spoke to Playbill exclusively about the upcoming December 7 live TV broadcast of the Tony-winning musical. The duo revealed that Hairspray Live! will be filmed outdoors with a live audience and will feature new songs.
Greenblatt teased that audience members would be part of the Hairspray Live! broadcast, as Baltimore locals and part of the audience of The Corny Collins Show. “They’ll be inside the story as opposed to just bystanders,” said the TV executive.
“We’re going to have people responding in certain scenes,” revealed Greenblatt. “I don’t like the idea of people sitting against the wall or in bleachers applauding. We’re going to work people into scenes, like crowd scenes and extras and background people. They’re going to just organically react to the musical numbers. There will be a fair amount of live responses.”
Shaiman spoke about incorporating new songs into the TV adaptation. “We’re going to try some different songs that Scott [Wittman] and I had tried at one point,” said the composer. “We’re going to put a movie song in there, and there might be something new that we’ll come up with. But we want to be careful not to screw with that one little perfect thing that we made once.”
“We don’t want to fix what’s not broke, but we do always want to fluff it up a bit,” he continued. “It’s a show that really works, so it didn’t require a re-think,” agreed Greenblatt. “There’s nothing [hugely] different. We haven’t moved it to the 1990’s or something crazy. It’s [still] the show you love.”
Greenblatt did speak about some of the script changes audiences can expect. Harvey Fierstein, who was recently announced as returning to his Tony-winning role as Edna Turnblad for the NBC broadcast, is adapting the script for TV.
“We’ve done some rewriting just to choreograph things out in the street,” said Greenblatt. “We’re going to shoot it on the Universal back lot in Hollywood, so we’re going to spend a fair amount of the show outdoors, which we haven’t done previously.”
“The sun will be going down just as we start ‘Good Morning Baltimore,’” he continued. “What’s going to be fun about Hairspray is that it’s not going to be enclosed by a studio. It’s going to be outside and have a real exuberance in the open air.”
Both Greenblatt and Shaiman said they were thrilled to have Fierstein on board for Hairspray Live! “Harvey is part of the family. We just thought to ourselves, ‘He is the iconic Edna Turnblad. We should memorialize that performance on film,'” said Greenblatt. “I think it’s come full circle.”
Greenblatt said it would be some time before they announced who would be cast in the lead role of Tracy Turnblad. The chairman was very impressed by the amount of actresses who had turned up to the New York open call this past weekend. “We had a lot of girls, more girls than we had for The Wiz,” he commented.
“We just want to scour the world and see who’s out there, like we did when we found Shanice Williams, which was just a phenomenal discovery. It will probably be a couple of months.”
Greenblatt said he and other executives at NBC had learned a lot from the success of last year’s The Wiz Live. “With each musical, we learn more and more…We’ve gotten more confident with what we can do, so we’re going to apply some of that to Hairspray, but each one is a new thing.”
Hairspray Live! will air December 7 at 8 PM ET. The all-star creative team includes The Wiz Live director Kenny Leon and original Hairspray choreographer Jerry Mitchell. Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, who produced all three of NBC’s recent holiday musicals, are attached as producers.