[LISTEN] Kenny Leon (‘Hairspray Live’ director): ‘Our country really needs’ this musical ‘about the inclusion of everybody’

“Every year we learn how to do it better and better. I think the bar is really high now in terms of audience participation, in terms of camera movement, in terms of the tone of the story,” says director Kenny Leon about the upcoming musical event “Hairspray Live.” In our recent chat during a set visit (listen above), he adds, “I think our country really needs this particular story, which is about the inclusion of everybody. America belongs to all of us, so we have a real reason for doing it.”

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Airing live December 7, it marks the fourth straight year for an NBC musical event produced by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron. The tradition started with “The Sound of Music” (2013), and then “Peter Pan” (2014), and “The Wiz Live” (2015). Leon also directed that Emmy-nominated project last year and returns this month in charge of the staging portion along with Alex Rudzinski (“Grease Live”) responsible for the technical directing.

Comparing the previous show to the new one, Leon says, “This has about 40% more exteriors. We shot ‘The Wiz Live’ on an interior set using LED screens in New York, so everything happened in one location. Here, we’re in eight locations with some of them outside, so it’s about getting the actors where they need to be. We’re going to need every bit of the four-to-five minute commercials.”

Dish ‘Hairspray Live’ with Hollywood insiders in our notorious forums

The adaptation of the Tony Award-winning musical takes place in 1962 Baltimore. Teenager Tracy Turnblad (Maddie Baillio) has a dream to dance on a local show. Her mother Edna (Harvey Fierstein, who also wrote the teleplay) encourages her to help integrate the all-white program. Other cast members include Ariana Grande, Martin Short, Kristin Chenoweth, Jennifer Hudson, Dove Cameron, Garrett Clayton, and Derek Hough. Marc Shaiman wrote the music and co-wrote the lyrics with Scott Wittman.

Leon received a Directors Guild awards nomination earlier this year for his direction of “The Wiz Live.” He also had another for the 2008 telefilm “A Raisin in the Sun.” He won a Tony Award for the Broadway production of that play in 2014 and was also nominated in 2010 for “Fences.”

Correction: The original version of this post misspells the surname of the lyricist: He is Scott Wittman, not Whitman.

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