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Julianne Hough can't remember exactly when she first saw the 1978 movie "Grease," but she's sure she did it surreptitiously.

"My parents wouldn't let us watch PG movies because they were quite racy," she said, with a laugh. "And I grew up in Utah. I was Mormon. So when they would be out of town or when they would be at work, I would go and steal the movie and watch it downstairs. And put on my own production of it.

"That was me being naughty Sandy."

The Utah native will be playing Sandy in the most high-profile production of "Grease" in 38 years — Fox's "Grease Live!" airing Sunday (6 p.m. on KSTU-Ch. 13). The network turned to producer Marc Platt ("Wicked," "Into the Woods") and director Thomas Kail ("Hamilton," "In the Heights") to put on a massive production that's taking up a big chunk of the Warner Bros. backlot in Burbank, Calif.

It's a long way from Hough's basement production, "when I was, like, 5 years old. I was Sandy, and, then, during the dance scene, I turned into Cha Cha. And, then, I went back to Sandy."

Doing "Grease" for a new generation is a challenge when the movie and umpteen stage versions loom so large in pop culture.

"We get a chance to take this film and this stage play that we love so much and was so important to all of us and try to honor it," Kail said, "and serve it up and find a new audience."

It's still the same story — Sandy, the new girl at Rydell High, makes friends with the Pink Ladies and falls for Danny Zuko (Aaron Tveit). Sandy is the good girl; Rizzo (Vanessa Hudgens) is the bad girl — she might be pregnant, and Kenickie (Carlos PenaVega) might be the father.

The cast also includes Keke Palmer as Marty; Carly Rae Jepsen as Frenchy; Kether Donohue as Jan; David Del Rio as Putzie; Jordan Fisher as Doody; and Andrew Call as Sonny.

Hough can relate to Sandy being the new girl at school. After living in London, she moved back to Utah when she was 15 and, in the next three years, attended three different high schools — Park City High, Las Vegas Academy and Alta High.

"I felt very much like Sandy. I didn't really know where I fit," she said. "The people were very different in Utah than they were in London. I was friends with everybody, but I didn't really know where I belonged until my dance company and my theater classmates kind of embraced me — kind of like my Pink Ladies."

"Grease Live!" will also feature cameos by Mario Lopez as Vince Fontaine; Ana Gasteyer as Principal McGee; and Eve Plumb as Mrs. Murdock. Didi Conn (Frenchy in the movie) and Barry Pearl (Doody in the movie) will also appear.

And Jessie J performs "Grease (Is The Word)," the disco-era theme song from the John Travolta-Olivia Newton-John movie.

"Grease Live!" will be a hybrid of the 1971 stage production and the 1978 movie.

"We are doing what we think is the best version of 'Grease' that fits live television," said Plat. It will include songs (like "Hopelessly Devoted to You") added for the movie and original songs (like "Magic Changes" and "Freddy My Love") that were in the stage version but not the movie.

And there's one original song in this TV production — written by Tony and Pulitzer Prize winners Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey ("Next to Normal") and performed by Jepsen.

Planning for the event began nine months ago; rehearsals began in November. Platt and Kail are taking "cinematic elements" and "live theatrical elements and "combining them together in a way I don't think anyone has seen before," Platt said.

Unlike NBC's live versions of "Peter Pan," "The Sound of Music" and "The Wiz," "Grease will have a live audience of about 700 "that is actually designed into the set," Kail said. "And there are many, many sets."

They will be performing on three soundstages and several locations on the Warner Bros. backlot, "rain or shine," Kail said. They're using 44 cameras and, yes, there will be a carnival — complete with a Ferris wheel — set up for the final scene.

Hough believes the "live-audience element helps so much" because it provides "this extra little umph, and that's where magic happens." And she's used to performing live on TV — she is, after all, a two-time winner on "Dancing with the Stars."

"That absolutely helps," she said. "But this is a very different thing."

Hough said she got words of encouragement when Newton-John was a guest judge on "Dancing with the Stars" back in November.

"She just said, 'I hear you're playing Sandy. Oh, my goodness. Congratulations. You're just perfect for it,'" Hough said. "And I almost started crying."

But she and the rest of the cast are laughing their way through rehearsals of "Grease: Live."

"We feel lucky to work with such a joyous group of people," Platt said. "And that's what 'Grease' is at the end of the day. It's esprit de corps. We all went to high school, and we all remember sort of being part of a gang and what it feels to want to belong and to see a group of people you just want to hang with.

"That, at the end of the day, is what will come across the TV scene, however we do it, because at the end of the day, we all go together, right?"

And with that, the cast broke out in a rousing rendition of the song "We Go Together."

Twitter @ScottDPierce —


'Grease Live!' airs Sunday, Jan. 31, at 6 p.m. on Fox-Ch. 13. It will be seen on a one-hour tape-delay in the Mountain Time Zone.