In the upcoming television show Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies, Shanel Bailey ’19 plays Hazel, a newcomer to Rydell High School. Bailey says acting the role didn’t feel like much of a stretch when she arrived on the Vancouver set a month into production.
“Because my character is a new student to school, she’s not in the first couple episodes,” Bailey says. “By the time I arrived, everyone else knew each other and the routine. I’m not sure I was acting so much as I was genuinely terrified,” she jokes.
But it didn’t take long for Bailey, a graduate of Syracuse University’s B.F.A. musical theater program and a Broadway veteran, to settle in. Conceived as a prequel story to the iconic 1978 movie Grease, the new television series is a musical production. “My favorite days on set were the big ensemble musical dance numbers,” she says. “That felt like home.”
Bailey came to the series straight from performing in Book of Mormon on Broadway. She was originally cast in the musical in July 2019, only three months after graduating from Syracuse University, performing as an on-stage swing and understudy to the principal character, Nabulungi. Nine months into her run, COVID-19 hit, and Broadway shut down for more than a year.
Bailey was back home with her mom in Queens, New York, babysitting to make ends meet. When television productions restarted, she began auditioning for TV roles and landed episodes of The Equalizer, The Good Fight and That Damn Michael Che, before being invited back to Book of Mormon when rehearsals resumed in August 2021.
With COVID a continuing threat to Broadway, Bailey continued auditioning for TV roles, including Rise of the Pink Ladies in November 2021. One morning she awoke from a dream that she’d received a call back for a final audition, only to receive a message from her agent with that exact news. In fact, there was no additional audition—they were calling to let her know she had the part of Hazel. Two months later, she was on a plane to Vancouver, where the series shot over seven months.
Bailey loved her time with Book of Mormon and had the opportunity to play the lead role nearly 20 times during her tenure. Working in television has stretched her skills in new ways. “It’s an entirely different animal,” she says. “Theater is very communal. The cast and crew are all working together from start to finish over a three-hour period. Television is done in short bursts over long days. You do your part and trust that it’s all going to come together.”
Bailey says she’s only seen the first of the show’s 10 episodes, set to premiere on Paramount+ on April 6. “I was able to see a few of the production numbers on the monitor during filming. It looks really cool and feels very cinematic,” she says.
Aside from the song and dance, Rise of the Pink Ladies is a show about teenagers navigating social issues, relationships and the transition into adulthood. Bailey describes her character as somewhat of an outsider. “She’s not only new to school, but a young Black woman in the 1950s. She’s smart, kind of a science nerd, but she’s trying to stay under the radar and find her place,” she says. “I think the show does a good job of acknowledging that life wasn’t peachy keen for everyone without being preachy.”
Back in New York City, Bailey is currently in rehearsals for the Lynn Nottage play Crumbs from the Table of Joy, where she also plays a young woman in the 1950s. The show opens in previews on Feb. 21 at Theater Row and is set to run through April 1.
And she’s anxiously awaiting the release and response to Pink Ladies. “I think it’s going to be really great,” she says. “We’re hopeful for a second season.”