Kristen Bell was out to lunch with her friend, producer and writer Will Gluck (Friends With Benefits, Easy A), when he ran an idea by her: What if former musical theatre kids reunited on television to recreate the production of their high school musical?
Although fans of Bell only learned of her musical roots in the past few years (since her vocals as Princess Anna impressed the world in Disney’s animated hit Frozen), Gluck “knew that we were both musical theatre junkies,” says Bell. “I started complimenting him on this idea that not only serves as a show about music, which audiences seem to love, but also a show with that brilliant nostalgic quality that allows people to celebrate what was high school musical theatre.”
Gluck asked Bell to join him and documentary filmmaker Jason Cohen in shaping what is now Encore! Here, Bell (executive producer and host of the show) dives into what audiences can expect from the December 10 premiere, why she loves musical theatre, the high school show she never got to do, and more.
You latched on to this “seed of an idea” about musical theatre and re-creating a high school production. Tell me about taking it in this reality television direction, but really taking adults back to high school.
For some people [high school musical theatre] was where they felt their best. It’s certainly where the most diverse group gathered in any high school setting. I know from personal experience it was the only place where the math nerd and the jock and the outcast all got up onstage and sang together. High school musical theatre is some of the fondest memories I have and the idea of reliving them—not just to go back to what felt like glory days but also, because high school is an incredibly turbulent time for a lot of us, and there are things I’d like to say to people I went to high school with. There are amends I’d like to make. And I think that this show really allows our cast to do that.
The premiere shows the cast of a high school production of Into the Woods come back together. How did you choose them?
In truth, we wanted to try to keep it in California so our entire crew wouldn’t have to travel so much, but hopefully if we get to do more episodes we’ll get to delve into different high schools in different states and see what shows they would do. [This school] had a very difficult show—Sondheim is no slice of pie. We felt like it would be an excellent challenge and exciting to watch them have to perform Sondheim again within seven days, which is, as we all know, utterly impossible. They’re a diverse cast of people who we felt would benefit coming back together again. Two of them were high school sweethearts. One of them is pregnant now. Two of them were best friends and one had an announcement to make to the group he had never told them before. We just felt like there was a great story behind all of them and the best part about it is they were all incredibly eager to get back onstage.
Aside from executive producing, what’s your role in this episode?
I’m hosting the first episode and we have a variety of Broadway vocal coaches, choreographers, and directors coming in to help shape the show. From an audience member’s perspective, to watch people desire to get back onstage and feel really confident like “I’ve done this show before” but then to remember how difficult the show is, is an exciting thing to watch.
What is the high school show you did that you would want to reunited Encore!-style?
Probably Wizard of Oz. Or, Lady Be Good.
What is the show you wish you had done in high school but your high school didn’t do?
Can I be cheesy and say Grease? I felt like that was a rite of passage my Catholic high school wasn’t willing to let us have. I’m still upset about it.
What is the show more high schools should do?
I hate to reference just ones that are out now, but: as a history lesson Hamilton, as a comment on the high school experience Dear Evan Hansen, and as a comment on the human condition Rent.
What is the role that you’ve aged out of that you wish you could have done?
I’m on the cusp, so I’m not going to let hope die yet. I’ve done A Little Night Music twice, once at the Kennedy Center and once here at the L.A. Opera House and both times I played Frederika, the child. I was and am dying to play Anne and sing “Now Soon Later” because I think “Now Soon Later” is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard.
Encore! premieres December 10 at 10PM ET on ABC.