It appears that these live TV musicals aren’t going anywhere any time soon; after three musicals from NBC, Fox finally entered the fray with their live production of Grease. I had very mixed feelings about their musical selection. On the one hand, I love Grease. To the best of my knowledge, everyone loves Grease. It’s iconic. Like most people, my familiarity with the musical derives mostly from the Olivia Newton-John/John Travolta big screen adaptation; I cannot honestly tell you how many times that I’ve seen that movie, but it’s a lot. Like, a lot a lot. My high school did Grease my junior year, but mostly what I remember from that was my friends being in it and the fact that they eliminated the whole “Rizzo might be pregnant” story line, which was kind of ironic for a school that would only a few years later have a daycare center in the school for all the teen pregnancies. I assure you – when you are sitting next to the father of three in your social studies class and you have a baby shower for another student during homeroom, we wouldn’t have been scandalized. I’m also well aware of Grease‘s fails when it comes to gender politics. I don’t love the whole “change absolutely everything about yourself to get a guy” message, but the musical is fun enough that I can overlook it. Plus Grease is so goofy that no one should be taking life advice from it.
So while I was really excited because I love Grease I was also a little concerned by the decision. By picking something that so many people are familiar with, expectations were going to be high and it was going to be easy to nitpick. Every performer in Grease: Live was going to be compared to the actors who played them on the big screen, fairly or not. I’m not really a Julianne Hough fan so while there is definitely a physical resemblance to Olivia Newton-John, I am very skeptical that she has the vocal chops or acting talent to pull this off. I also can’t stand Mario Lopez, and while he has a pretty minor role, knowing that he’s in this at all leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Fox is also shooting for the fences with this one – a live audience and multiple sets that are going to be a challenge. If they pull it off, they will have upped the game for these live musicals, but there is also a high chance of disaster. Go big or go home, I guess. I’ll try to leave my concerns at the door and watch Grease: Live objectively. I’m also going to try to not sing along, for the sake of my neighbors, but I make no promises.
7:00 – Staying true to the movie beginning – Danny and Sandy at the beach.
7:01 – As Jessie J is singing “Grease,” it dawns on me that this song really makes no sense.
7:02 – Yay – our first glimpse of Didi Conn.
7:03 – I like all the movement as they go through the hallways. This already has more energy than any of the other live musicals. Plus it introduces everyone in the cast.
7:04 – They are indeed doing this rain or shine. Good for them.
7:04 – Jessie J keeps showing off her shoulder. That’s weird.
7:05 – Boyz II Men and Ana Gasteyer. That’s a combo that you don’t see every day.
7:05 – Ugh – I have advocated for a live audience, but these girls need to stop screaming.
7:06 – Is there an extra T-Bird? Were there always five of them?
7:07 – Quick fact check – there were indeed five T-Birds. I think I conflated Putzie and Sonny as one guy.
7:08 – So Sandy is from Utah. Making her from Australia obviously makes no sense, so I was curious where her family would suddenly move from.
7:10 – I wonder if anyone under the age of 30 gets that athletic supporter joke.
7:12 – I’ve got to give it to Vanessa Hudgens – she’s got the proper attitude for Rizzo.
7:13 – I appreciated what they are doing with cutting back and forth during “Summer Nights” but it’s a little abrupt.
7:14 – Huh – I never noticed how rape-y some of these lyrics are in retrospect. I guess I never thought too much about “did she put up a fight” too much before.
7:17 – Going into the first commercial break, I’m on board. Not totally convinced that Julianne Hough has a strong enough voice for Sandy, but otherwise my only complaint is that we’ve already seen Mario Lopez.
7:20 – Impressive that Sandy has a cheerleading outfit before tryouts.
7:22 – We are spending too much time with Patty Simcox and Eugene.
7:24 – Was going to cheerleading tryouts a thing back in the 50s? Seems odd so many people are there.
7:25 – I guess if they spent all the time learning cheerleading routines, they are going to make us watch it. This is why the show is three hours. Plus wasn’t Sandy supposed to be a mediocre cheerleader?
7:27 – This chronology is a little confusing. What day is this? How far ahead did we jump from the tryouts to the pep rally?
7:29 – Bunk (Wendell Pierce) is the football coach? I would go to this school.
7:30 – I’m not sure what to do with a leader of the Scorpions that doesn’t look 50 years old.
7:31 – I see that they are sticking with the knee length cheerleading skirts.
7:32- “Rockin’ and rolling and whatnot” will be my answer the next time someone asks me what I’ve been up to.
7:35 – There are way too many commercial breaks. This is killing any momentum.
7:39 – Wait – Marty gets a song? This wasn’t in the movie, right? Was this in the play?
7:41 – I’ve got to give it to Fox – they are certainly not afraid to use as many sets as possible.
7:42 – Keke Palmer has a great voice. They should have taken advantage of this on Scream Queens.
7:44 – Why is the actress playing Jan always thrusting her pelvis. It’s weird.
7:45 – I love “Sandra Dee” but that song was full of dated references twenty years ago.
7:45 – Things I had previously not considered – why does Frenchie have so many wigs laying around?
7:46 – These songs seem very rushed. They need to slow down the pace a bit.
7:47 – Wait – are they NOT doing “Hopelessly Devoted to You?!?!”
7:55 – I’m kind of surprised that they kept the condom scene.
7:57 – Kenickie just isn’t believable to me.
7:57 – I always knew Jan Brady was destined for prison. Nice surprise cameo by Eve Plumb as the shop teacher.
7:58 – Let’s see how censored “Greased Lightening” will be. I’m guessing they’ll lose the “chicks will cream” line, which is honestly for the best.
7:59 – Lol – did they just change “p*ssy wagon” to “dragon wagon?” That makes no sense and somehow sounds just as sexual.
8:02 – They are kind of killing this choreographed dancing.
8:07 – They really should have done a better job distinguishing between the T-Birds and the Scorpions. Once everyone is in a leather jacket, it gets confusing.
8:08 – Pay for your own music, Sandy. #feminism
8:09 – Only Travolta can deliver that “Don’t make me laugh. Ha Ha Ha” line
8:09 – I don’t remember Sandy’s date Tom being this dumb in the movie.
8:10 – I approve of this Danny in a tank top/short shorts costume change.
8:13 – Why is this Bruno Mars-dude in the T-Birds still singing? And WHO IS THIS GUY? Is that Doody?
8:14 – I’m being too snarky. This guy is good. I just don’t like change. Ironic, given the song he’s singing.
8:20 – Ugh. Again with Eugene and Patty.
8:24 – They are trying too hard to be meta with these references to live TV and amateurs.
8:26 – Haha – Frenchie could make solid money nowadays dying people’s hair pink.
8:27 – Is this a new song?
8:29 – This song does not fit in at all. AT ALL.
8:30 – Thank God. I thought that they were cutting “Beauty School Dropout.”
8:31 – Not necessarily loving this Boyz II Men version. This should not be a slow jam. I am a traditionalist.
8:41 – Joe Jonas isn’t getting much screen time. That’s kind of surprising.
8:46 – I always found this Vince Fontaine storyline creepy, so it’s perfect that Mario Lopez is playing him.
8:51 – What is up with Sandy being afraid of being on camera?
8:56 – It’s finally hand jive time.
8:57 – Ut oh. My audio went out.
8:58 – It’s back. Live TV folks!
8:59 – Well, I guess that’s the payoff for Sandy not wanting to be on camera.
9:00 – Again, they did a really nice job with the dancing. Though did anyone actually hand jive in that whole thing?
9:01 – Also, no one mooned the camera. I’m deducting points for that omission.
9:02 – Oh thank goodness -Hopefully Devoted” is back in! Though Sandy must live next door to the school, she got home that quick. Or she’s just singing in front of a random house.
9:09 – Haha – Blanche is slaying it.
9:12 – Interesting potential subplot – Sandy’s parents are in a cult.
9:15 – I wondered if they would keep the Rizzo may be pregnant storyline.
9:16 – Sin wagon? I’m assuming that was a Dixie Chicks shout out.
9:16 – “Sandy” is a little pitchy, dog.
9:17 – Aaron Tveit recovered nicely. But that song needed a swingset. And dancing hotdogs.
9:24 – Danny is getting more action from Kenickie than from Sandy.
9:25 – Wait – is Eugene the secret hero of this whole show?
9:26 – Sandy let the claws out. Take that Patty.
9:27 – No pressure, but “Worst Thing I Could Do” is my favorite song of the whole musical. Don’t screw this up, Hudgens.
9:29 – Not bad. No Stockhard Channing, but that was pretty spectacular.
9:34 – It’s probably ill-advised for a teacher to be at an illegal drag race.
9:35 – Didn’t Rizzo literally five minutes ago tell us that she wasn’t going to Thunder Road?
9:36 – Plot twist – Danny knocked Kenickie out on purpose. That may be the nicest thing anyone has done in this whole musical.
9:38 – Watching people pretend to drive is less exciting than they probably thought it would be. Obviously they are limited in what they can do and they did the best with the camera work, but that was very anticlimactic.
9:39 – Further proof Danny is terrible boyfriend material – Sandy is sitting right there and the first thing he does after the race is give Eugene his jacket.
9:46 – Can pregnant women not hula-hoop?
9:52 – Someone is out of tune.
9:54 – Somewhere, Kanye is taking credit for those leather pants.
9:53 – It would kind of be hilarious if this ends with a golf cart accident.
9:55 – That finale was pretty amazing.
9:57 – So cute that Didi Conn and Barry Pearl came out in their Pink Lady and T-Bird jackets.
9:59 – A very nice gesture to dedicate the performance to Hudgens’ late father.
So I’ve got to say, Grease:Live was pretty great overall. The crew should all receive Emmys, because from a purely technical perspective what they were able to accomplish was nothing short of ground-breaking. The choreography, camera work, costume and set changes were all pretty flawless. By giving the cast the freedom to move around and using more intricate camera shots, this production had so much more energy than anything that NBC has done. Grease: Live actually felt alive and that energy helped sustain all three hours of the production. So on that end of things, this was a triumph. The cast was generally very good, though I do have a few complaints. Aaron Tveit never quite exuded the danger and cool that John Travolta did to make Danny really come alive. Tveit was just a little too safe. I didn’t think that he and Hough had all that much chemistry. Julianne Hough was not nearly as wooden as Carrie Underwood in Sound of Music, but she’s not a great actress either. But Hough was better than I expected and whatever she lacked in the singing and acting department was not enough to derail the show. Vanessa Hudgens really stole this whole thing; every time she was on screen things felt a little bit more exciting. She really did the role of Rizzo justice and considering that she was doing this less than 24 hours after her father had passed away is a testament to her strength and professionalism. She really, really impressed me.
Grease: Live has really raised the bar for these live musicals going forward. The performances were generally fun and visually the production was tremendous. It wasn’t flawless, but I think so far it’s the best of the bunch. There was a decent chance that Grease: Live was going to go off the rails or be laughably bad, yet the cast and crew were able to rise to the occasion and put on an entertaining show. I might have made a few casting changes and slowed the pace down a bit, but I can’t say that I failed to have a good time while watching it. As it turns out, Grease is indeed the word.