Photos by Sarah Krick; Hair by Alyx Liu; Makeup by Allan Avendano; Styling by Natalie Hoselton
When Marisa Davila met with a career coach, they asked about her biggest dream.
“You can’t really be picky in this industry,” Davila remembers saying. But if she could?
“A project where I would get to sing, dance and act.”
A year later, Davila booked the role of Jane Facciano in Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies. Taking place four years before the events of Grease, the students at Rydell High are shaken up by a moral panic incited by four outcasts that dare to be themselves— and dare everyone else to be too. Before rock ‘n’ roll ruled and the T-Birds were the coolest guys around, the original Pink Ladies started a high school revolution.
“It’s an origin story,” Davila tells Los Angeles Confidential during a phone call ahead of the premiere. “We just get a more intimate look at the world that we're familiar with.”
Debuting April 6 on Paramount Plus, Rise of the Pink Ladies spans ten weekly episodes and features music by executive music producer and Grammy nominee Justin Tranter, whose past credits include working with Lady Gaga, The Chicks and Dua Lipa.
As Jane, Davila is one of the four Pink Ladies alongside Cheyenne Isabel Wells’ Olivia, Ari Notartomaso’s Cynthia and Tricia Fukuhara’s Nancy. The quartet could not be more different from one another, but bond over an ambitious rebellious streak and fervent need to stand up for the underdog.
Rise of the Pink Ladies filmed for seven months in Vancouver, Canada. The shoot was projected to be six months, but between navigating COVID protocols, rehearsal, a big ensemble cast and complicated scenes filled with original music and choreography, wrapping just a month over schedule is an impressive achievement.
“I think we all knew how important this project would be,” Davila says. “I spoke to a lot of the crew members throughout and… they were always saying that because there's music going on all the time, they just enjoyed waking up and coming to work every day, which made me so happy.”
The cast arrived to set about a month before filming took place to prep song recordings and learn choreography. When the shoot began, rehearsal became a tricky balance. Davila explains that while on set or at the end of the day, she would be sent videos to familiarize herself with the material. Saturdays also became a day to catch up on dance moves, but it wasn’t anything they couldn’t handle.
“We grew up putting on musicals in two weeks,” Davila says. “We've been training for this our whole life.”
In fact, Davila’s first performance was a musical. When she was five, the high school her mom worked at was putting on a production of Les Misérables and needed a kid to play little Èponine. “They had trouble getting me on stage,” she admits. But she fell in love with performing as she got older (and this time not forced into it), which was kickstarted by a successful audition for the role of Gertrude McFuzz in Seussical: The Musical.
Between pre-production and filming, establishing the Pink Ladies’ tight connection came naturally for Davila, Wells, Notartomaso and Fukuhara. But the group also had a special chance to get to know each other outside of character during one week off where they and a few other cast members escaped to Whistler, the town just north of Vancouver known for its luxe ski resort reputation.
“This is a big job and there’s so much pressure on it,” Davila reflects. “If we can be someone to lean on for each other, that's really important to me.”
Rise of the Pink Ladies is the ultimate role for Davila as a musical TV show. But more than that, her character Jane is the chance to platform the dynamic nature of women.
Jane has big university dreams and works hard in school. On the other hand, her drive also fuels a civil disobedience that can land her in trouble.
“She's not really afraid to speak up and she's not afraid to share her desires in life,” Davila says. “[Her] female rage… is written so well.”
“Every single Pink Lady and every single character in our cast, the depth of them, I think is what makes this show so enticing. And what I think the viewers are gonna love is these aren't just happy-go-lucky, colorful Grease characters anymore. They’re more fleshed out people that I think every single person in our audience is going to be able to pick out who they relate to the most.”
As Davila points out, the issues Rise of the Pink Ladies touches on are nothing new. “We're still in a society where women aren't paid for all of who they are and all of what they offer and they're not valued the same as men.”
She adds, “I think the takeaway of the show is being able to see other people's beliefs of how they walk through life and knowing what they go through and being able to empathize to everybody no matter how different they may be from you.”
While considering “these thought-provoking concepts,” Davila also hopes you have a good time. She thinks watching the show will leave you entertained and offer the chance to have a conversation about what we have and have not learned since the 1950s.
“It's one of the most important things that we want to get across while also making everybody laugh and sing along,” she says. “I think we have a good balance of that.”
Photography by: Sarah Krick