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How Carly Rae Jepsen Put Her Own Spin On An Iconic Role For ‘Grease: Live’

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 9/03/2016 Jillian Capewell
CARLY RAE JEPSEN © Paramount Pictures CARLY RAE JEPSEN

The live televised musical is still a relatively new invention; we've seen "The Sound of Music," "Peter Pan," "The Wiz" and now "Grease" reimagined for today's audiences from the comfort of our couches, the easiest place to live-tweet our reactions. The format blends the excitement and immediacy of a live performance while using the magic of TV to its advantage, telling viewers a story that's both familiar and fresh.

"Opening and closing night kind of all happens on the same day," singer Carly Rae Jepsen, who played Frenchy in Fox's production of "Grease: Live," told The Huffington Post in an interview. Months of rehearsals led to one short window of time to get it all right: the blocking, the camera angles, the lines. "You had to bring everything you had to the character with this high-stakes, high-pressure situation," she said.

Add that to the pressure of taking on such an iconic role as infamous beauty school dropout Frenchy, first immortalized by Didi Conn in the original 1978 film. "It was an intimidating thing to be sure, with such a classic story," said Jepsen. "What was exciting and kind of attractive about this project was that it was a new take on it." Jepsen looked to the qualities in Frenchy's character that she saw in Conn's performance: her optimism, friendliness and desire for all her friends to get along.

"Didi is sort of the one who gave me the confidence to go for it," she explained. "If I was insecure about something, that's a feeling that Frenchy would feel as well, being in high school and trying to figure out what her path is supposed to be. So anytime I was looking for a decision of where to go with the character, I would turn to either her or Tom [Kail, the director] for that guidance."

Though Jepsen has plenty of live performances under her belt, having graced the Broadway stage in "Cinderella" and toured around the world for her albums, "Grease: Live" was a slightly different animal. Whereas her concerts feel more spontaneous, "this is very polished and precise," she said. "Everything was camera angles and blocking and the incredible sets that we had to jump in between. [It] all required that you stay to your track and you don't color too far outside the lines." The many moving parts that make a live TV musical appear effortless require a certain rigidity.

Jepsen even got to sing an original song for the show, "All I Need Is an Angel," which she launches into right after sharing a scene with Conn herself. That performance is followed by a standout scene where Boyz II Men themselves appear in the diner -- in matching suits, no less -- to offer advice to a downtrodden Frenchy. 

When asked how she reacted after learning she'd be working with the beloved '90s group, Jepsen responded, "I was over the moon!" 

"I truly fangirled that entire time," she continued. "I think the biggest comment from Tom was that I had to stop looking so happy, 'cause it's actually like, a song where they're pretty much slapping my wrist a little bit and saying, 'Get your head on your shoulders, girl, you're doing it all wrong.'" Jepsen admitted she was a little out of character during the first few rehearsals due to being so "starry-eyed." 

Jepsen described a scene from when the cast first heard the recording of Boyz II Men's "Beauty School Dropout."

"It was like our treat at the end of a long day's work, as a sort of get-excited moment," she said. "The whole cast just sat around this little stereo and we listened to it and we were just squealing. To me, it's one of the tracks from the entire album that I would just download and listen to in my car. They sound so rad on it."  

The challenge and excitement of playing Frenchy made diving into "Grease: Live" a no-brainer for Jepsen. "I think you always learn something new from doing something outside of your comfort zone and something you find exciting and challenging, and 'Grease' was all those things," she said. "It was confidence-building in a way, to try something that was a little bit scary to me and I don't regret it for an instant. It was just as gratifying as I hoped it would be. And I think that always adds to everything you do as an artist."

"Grease: Live" is now available on DVD.

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