Fox’s live production of “Grease” fought rain, wind and personal tragedy to emerge a winner, with its audience of 12.2 million people eclipsing viewership for the last two musicals presented on NBC.
The Nielsen company said Fox’s audience was more than three times what the network typically gets for a Sunday night.
“’Grease’ is so much about joy and energy and youth,” said Marc Platt, one of the show’s producers, on Monday. “We decided we wanted to throw a big party to celebrate that and invite everyone and that’s what we did, and it turned out well for everybody.”
There was so much wind and rain a few hours before the start that producers were told that a major part of the set — the facade of Rydell High — would not be able to be used because it was unsafe. They scrambled to redo the affected scenes, but shortly before starting it was deemed safe to go ahead with the original plans.
The dampness was evident during the opening scene of singer Jessie J singing “Grease,” as she walked on wet pavement and people carried umbrellas in the background.
Producers had tapes from rehearsals to use in the case of emergency and had to go to the backup plan once, when audio briefly cut out during “Born to Hand Jive.”
At the end of the show, Fox aired a tribute message to Greg Hudgens, father of actress Vanessa Hudgens, who played the hard-bitten character Rizzo. Greg Hudgens died of cancer the night before the show.
There wasn’t any question that Vanessa Hudgens would go on with the show, Platt said. Good thing — she had no understudy.
The enormous production featured 21 sets across two soundstages and the back lot of Warner Brothers studio; actors were shuttled from scene to scene in carts that were shown during the closing number. There was a live audience of 650 people who also served as extras.“It was an extremely ambitious undertaking with all the logistics of the many stages, the live audience going in and out of stages and the actors moving around,” Platt said. “It really went off fabulously well.”
“Grease” beat NBC’s production of “The Wiz,” which had 11.5 million viewers shortly before Christmas, and Fox also had a bigger percentage of young viewers. NBC began the recent trend of putting musicals on live television with “The Sound of Music.”
The “Grease” audience was just under the 12.5 million who watched the Republican presidential debate last week on Fox News Channel — but “Grease” may inch past it with delayed viewing.
Fox on Monday also signaled its plans for a live version of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” this fall were still on when they announced the casting of Tony Award winner Annaleigh Ashford. She will join Laverne Cox, Adam Lambert and Tim Curry in the cult classic.