Craig Zadan and Neil Meron Q&A: ‘Hairspray Live’
“It just seemed to be a very, very timely piece,” divulges “Hairspray Live!” producer Neil Meron during our recent webcam chat (watch the exclusive video above). Based on the Tony Award-winning musical (itself adapted from the 1988 John Waters cult classic), this NBC production centers on Tracy Turnblad (Maddie Baillio), an overweight teen living in 1960s Baltimore who dreams of starring on a hit TV dance show. Her tenacity eventually leads to the all-white cast being integrated with African American dancers. Meron and longtime producing partner Craig Zadan first brought the show to the big screen in 2007.
“Hairspray” was the latest Broadway musical to be given a live television event this past December, and the ensemble cast included Harvey Fierstein, Martin Short, Kristen Chenoweth, Andrea Martin, Jennifer Hudson, Ariana Grande, and Sean Hayes. For Meron and Zadan, who mounted similar live productions of “The Sound of Music,” “The Wiz,” and “Peter Pan,” this presented “the opportunity to expand the way that it was designed and shot and broadcast insofar as that we were able to use the backlot and go outside.” Ultimately, the goal was to create, “a hybrid of TV, film, and theater.”
The two have long held a passion for musicals, even when the genre was out of fashion in Hollywood. When the duo got started, Zadan reveals, “Nobody was doing movie musicals. So we jumped in there to fill the void. Unfortunately, nobody was interested.” All that changed when their adaptation of “Chicago” became an Oscar-winning smash hit in 2002. Following that success, Zadan and Meron sought to reinvent another format. “We talked about the fact that 50 years ago, they were doing live musicals on television,” he adds. They thought, “why not do a new incarnation of live shows on network television?” They’re now working to bring “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Bye Bye Birdie” to TV.
Throughout their lengthy careers, Zadan and Meron have reaped 13 Emmy nominations (Best TV Movie for “Gypsy” in 1994, “Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story” in 1995, “Annie” in 2000, “The Reagans” in 2004, and “A Raisin in the Sun” in 2008; Best Music or Comedy Special for “Cinderella” in 1998; Best Miniseries for “The Beach Boys: An American Family” in 2000, “Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows” in 2001, and “Bonnie and Clyde” in 2013; and Best Special Class Program for “The Oscars” in 2012, 2014, and 2015, and “The Sound of Music Live!” in 2014).