PASADENA, Calif. — “Dancing with the Stars” alum Julianne Hough has been tapped to play Sandy in Fox’s live musical production of “Grease,” while former Disney darling Vanessa Hudgens (“High School Musical,” “Spring Breakers”) will play bad girl Rizzo.
Fox executives made the casting announcement Saturday at the TV critics’ press tour. No word yet on who will be Danny.
“Grease: Live” (working title) is slated to air Sunday, Jan. 31 on WFLD-Channel 32. It marks Fox’s foray into broadcast TV’s live-musical arena, resurrected in 2013 with NBC’s critically panned but highly rated “Sound of Music Live” starring Carrie Underwood.
NBC followed that up with last month’s less successful “Peter Pan.” The network recently snapped up rights to “The Wiz” and also has “The Music Man” on its docket.
Based on the early ’70s Broadway musical of the same name with book, lyrics and music by Warren Casey and Jim Jacobs, the 1978 film “Grease,” starring Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, grossed nearly $400 million worldwide — a record for a movie musical.
The beloved Rydell High School musical can trace its roots to Chicago, where Jacobs and Casey came up with the idea while at a party in 1969. Jacobs was tired of listening to Led Zeppelin, so he put on a bunch of old dusty discs — Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Dion and the Belmonts — of the music he loved. He and Casey, an actor, began to imagine what a musical using the classic sounds of the ’50s would look and sound like. Soon ideas were being tossed around about the greaser kids Jacobs knew at his alma mater, Taft High School on Chicago’s Northwest Side.
Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta star in the 1978 hit film “Grease.” (AP Photo/Paramount)
“A few weeks later, Warren called and said he was working on a scene for the play,” Jacobs told the Sun-Times’ Mary Houlihan for a story in 2011, when Jacobs helped stage “The Original Grease” at American Theater Company. “It just grew from there. We wanted the truth — to capture the way things really were among all those high school outcasts back in 1959.”
The “little show for their friends” — Marilu Henner was in the original cast — opened in 1971 at Kingston Mines. It proved to be a hit, and in 1972 it moved to Broadway, where a sanitized version ran until 1980.
“‘Grease’ is one of the movies that made me want to be an entertainer and I have literally been waiting my whole life to play Sandy,” said Hough (“Safe Haven,” “Rock of Ages”).
Her co-star Hudgens seems equally pumped up about playing Rizzo.
“She is such an iconic character that continues to transcend generations,” said Hudgens, who makes her Broadway debut this year in “Gigi.” “I’m going to be a Pink Lady!”