Despite being a Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning composer, Tom Kitt (“Next to Normal”) readily admits to being intimidated when approached to handle all aspects of the music for “Grease Live.” As he explains during our recent webcam chat (watch above), “‘Grease’ is iconic. ‘Grease’ is beloved.” Indeed, the 1972 Broadway tuner was turned into a film in 1978 that still ranks as the highest grossing movie musical of all time. “There was that aspect of doing right by the material, but also, for me, this great unknown of a live television event that I had never worked on in this capacity.”
To the end, he embarked on a painstaking process of researching, reworking, and rewriting one of the best-known scores in musical theater history. “I knew this was going to be a brand new version of ‘Grease,’ so really I had to create a new score from the ground up.” Detailing his efforts, he reveals, “there was a lot of new orchestration and arrangement that I had to bring to the table that stood side-by-side with some of the things that had existed already.”And he composed a new song: “All I Need Is An Angel” for the character Frenchy (Carly Rae Jepsen).
He speaks highly of the top-notch creative team behind “Grease: Live” that included Oscar-nominated producer Marc Platt (“Bridge of Spies”) and directors Thomas Kail and Alex Rudzinski. “I felt very taken care of but I knew that I was going to have to bring a lot of creativity to the project as well.”
In the end, he feels pride for his part in bringing “Grease” to a brand new audience. “That was really exciting, because we could all relate to that. Our introduction to ‘Grease’ when we were kids was just mind-blowing. It’s a reason why we watch it over and over again. Just to point to my kids, who hadn’t experienced it, I saw in them what I felt when I was a kid. There’s just something about this material that we all love, and it’s been very exciting to see a new generation discover it and love it the way everybody else does.”
Kitt won an Emmy Award with Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton”) for composing the original song “Bigger!” sung by 2013 Tony Awards host Neil Patrick Harris. Will he contend again at this year’s Emmys? We’ll find out on July 14.