Hairspray Live! Directors Tell Us What’s Next After Live Musicals

Special Features   Hairspray Live! Directors Tell Us What’s Next After Live Musicals
Tony-winning director Kenny Leon and Emmy-winning director Alex Rudzinski talk what’s new in NBC's Hairspray Live! and the next entertainment revolution.
The cast of Hairspray Live! Brian Bowen Smith/NBC

“We’re part of a revolution,” says Tony-winning director Kenny Leon (A Raisin in the Sun), half of the directing team of Hairspray Live! He’s talking about an artistic revolution. “This live television event is a hybrid of an idea. It’s not really film; it’s not really television as we know it. It’s not really live theatre as we know it.”

Hairspray Live!, set to air December 7 when it will be NBC's fourth live musical event, continues to push boundaries as it introduces musical theatre to millions across America. “This is about reaching for greatness and trying to deliver something that is really, really special to the viewers,” he continues, “and we only get one shot at it.”

Lucky for Leon, he has live television director Alex Rudzinski, best known for his Emmy-winning work on Fox’s Grease: Live. “One director can’t do this,” says Leon. Rudzinski agrees, “It’s about a synergy of two people.” Leon says he does 80 percent of the work in the earlier stages, including casting. “I approach it as if I’m directing a musical for the stage,” says Leon, “and then we interface with Alex in terms of how to get the cameras in there and how to tell that story.”

The plan for storytelling with Hairspray Live! is part of this aforementioned revolution. “For me, it’s always about trying to put the viewer at the heart of the action,” says Rudzinski, “and really trying to make them feel that it’s a bit less of a proscenium production.”

That includes shooting about 40 percent of the show outdoors. (Grease: Live shot approximately 15 percent outside.)

“There is a presence of ‘It’s today,’ in terms of the way we shoot it,” says Leon. “We have a few surprises musically and choreographically that suggest how important it is for us to be sitting in real time watching this event.” In fact, Leon calls the December 7 broadcast “the Super Bowl of theatre on television.”

As the live television musical event becomes more of a tradition than a revelation, it begs the question: What’s the new frontier? “I know that there’s talk of live events,” says Rudzinksi, “to do recreations of some classic movies live [not on TV]. I think there’s a real appetite for audiences out there to see these very ambitious live spectacles.”

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