Pop singer Ariana Grande is a self-proclaimed “theater geek,” and proud of it. That’s why being part of the musical Hairspray Live! is such a thrill for her. Grande’s fans got a sneak peek of the high-energy and joy she brings to her role as bff Penny Pingleton for the holiday production during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. She was part of the ensemble that showcased the “You Can’t Stop the Beat” number from the show. The uber-fun performance was a breathtaking display of everyone’s enthusiasm for the beloved retro musical.
Ariana said, “It’s kind of surreal for me to be a part of this. I’m so grateful. I got to see the original Broadway cast, which was incredible. I think I was 10 or 11, so way too young to play the part then. But Penny’s been my favorite character since the start. For my theater geek inside, which is what I am, it’s very overwhelming and exciting.”
She revealed that she got her start performing on Broadway. “I did a show called ‘13.’ That was my first professional job. And this (Hairspray) is just such a dream come true for me because, at heart, theater is everything to me. Pop music is so fun, but this is way much more fun. So much more,” Grande enthused.
Grande is part of the all-star cast for NBC’s Hairspray Live! And everyone has been busy rehearsing on the backlot of Universal Studios Hollywood where the production will be broadcast live December 7. But this summer the stars and creative team got together for the first time to gush over each other and do an interview panel during the Television Critics Association’s press tour.
The star of Hairspray Live! is newcomer Maddie Baillio as Tracy Turnblad, a girl who just wants to dance on a local Baltimore TV teen program, but then she blossoms into an advocate for integrating the dance show. It is really a joyous and funny story that makes its point about inclusion and diversity.
Tracy’s parents are played by Martin Short (Wilbur) and Broadway legend Harvey Fierstein, who returns to his Tony-winning role as Edna Turnblad from the hit 2002 musical. And singer Ariana Grande plays Tracy’s best friend Penny Pingleton.
Jennifer Hudson is the record-store owner Motormouth Maybell; Kristin Chenoweth gets the tour de force role as racist show producer Velma Von Tussle; Dove Cameron as her beauty queen daughter Amber Von Tussle; Garrett Clayton as Link Larkin; Ephraim Sykes as Seaweed J. Stubbs; Shahadi Wright Joseph as Little Inez; Andrea Martin as Prudy Pingleton; Billy Eichner as Rob Barker; Sean Hayes as Mr. Pinky; and the multi-talented Dancing With the Stars pro Derek Hough as Corny Collins the host of the dance show.
Producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron enlisted Alex Rudzinski and Kenny Leon as co-directors. Leon, who did The Wiz Live, enjoys having the entire Universal Studios backlot as his playground for the live production. And he’s glad there’s a larger theme to the story of Hairspray that makes the story about a dance show in 1962 Baltimore relevant to 2017 America. Leon said, “I’m happy to do this particular story at this particular time in our country when race relations are where they are. And I think this would be a fun time and a subtle way with a feel-good musical to talk about the beauty of all of us being together.”
Jennifer Hudson launched her career on American Idol’s third season and went on to win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the 2006 movie musical Dreamgirls. But she admitted being anxious about doing Hairspray Live! “I’m definitely nervous, that’s for sure,” Hudson reported at the TCA panel. “I don’t know how conscious I was of the subject nature of the show, but it was always the music that attracted me.”
An all-around super talent, singer-dancer-actor Derek Hough loves the excitement of a live performance and revealed that he saw how much his sister Julianne Hough enjoyed the process of doing Fox-TV’s Grease Live, “so when I was asked to be a part of Hairspray Live I said ‘yes’ immediately. There’s a little bit of rivalry (between us), but it’s a good thing. When I would see Julianne’s enjoyment of the experience I wanted that too. We come from a live theater background in London, and we do live television with Dancing with the Stars, so this is a hybrid of the two. Bringing theater to television is a natural transition, and just a passion and a wonderful thing to be a part of it.”
Tune in Hairspray Live! December 7, 2016 on NBC.