Fox’s Grease: Live

GREASE: LIVE: (L-R): Keke Palmer, Kether Donohue, Julianne Hough, Andrew Call, Carly Rae Jespen, Carlos PenaVega Aaron Tveit, David Del Rio, Jordan Fisher and Vanessa Hudgens in GREASE: LIVE airing LIVE Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016 (7:00-10:00 PM ET live/PT tape-delayed) on FOX. Cr: Tommy Garcia/FOX

Tommy Garcia/FOX

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.

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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.

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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.

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7:05 – Boyz II Men and Ana Gasteyer. That’s a combo that you don’t see every day.

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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?

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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.

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7:30 – I’m not sure what to do with a leader of the Scorpions that doesn’t look 50 years old.

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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.

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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.

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8:10 – I approve of this Danny in a tank top/short shorts costume change.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Back to School

This week, I have something in common with Rodney Dangerfield. It’s not that we both lament that we don’t get any respect, though that is probably true as well. I’m heading back to school! Work has decided to send me to a training program for some of my new job responsibilities, so instead of sitting in an office all day I’ll be sitting inside a (hopefully air-conditioned) classroom.

You’d think someone who spent as much time as I did in school – both as a student and an instructor – would be an old hand at this education stuff, but I have to admit that I’m a little anxious about it. I’m not so concerned about making friends or small talk – it’s amazing how interested people are when you say “I have a blog” – but I worry that the learning part of my brain is a little rusty. After going to school for 25+ straight years, I kind of turned that part of my brain off for a while after I left graduate school. It honestly needed a break, but I am concerned that part of my brain may not turn on again so easily. I’ve sat through training seminars before that were only a day and I was getting antsy being stuck in a room all day; I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like for most of a week. It’s really weird to go back to being a student after you’ve been the teacher. We’ll see how this goes – hopefully I come back to work with some cool ideas and methods for handling all the new work I’ve volunteered for.

As I was getting ready for this seminar, my mind ultimately wondered to pop culture – as it is wont to do. I started thinking about the various schools that have been featured in various television shows and movies. Some seem like very cool places to go, while others look to be less desirable. So while I try to adjust to listening to lectures all day, peruse my list of pop culture institutions of learning.

Enroll Me!

Greendale Community College – Community

Here’s all you really need to know about Greendale Community College – it offers a course on the history of ice cream and they have paintball wars most years. If that isn’t enough to convince you, I don’t know what is. Greendale appears to focus on all the good parts of college (campus activities and events, blowoff classes) and none of the more tedious parts (you know, actual learning). Greendale is so incredibly mismanaged that I don’t think I’d have any problems gaming the system. Plus they have some really fun teachers like John Oliver, Betty White, Malcolm McDowell and Michael K. Williams (OMAR!). The opportunity to watch Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) play pool in his underwear is a selling point as well.

 

The question isn’t really why you would want to go to Greendale; the question is why you wouldn’t (academic standards being a valid reason).

Chilton Preparatory School – Gilmore Girls

When I was a teenager, I had a brief flirtation with the idea of going to a prep school. I liked my current school and all my friends, but I got it in my head that the path to an Ivy League school would be easier if I had a diploma from a prep school rather than a private school (I was still dreaming of going to Harvard at that point). Prep school in my mind was equivalent with “serious academic;” I had not yet realized that prep school  also meant under achieving trust fund babies and rich kids kicked out of public school. I also kind of liked the idea of uniforms; having to wear the same thing as everyone else meant that was one less thing I had to worry about in the morning. So it’s no surprise that I hold some residual nostalgia for prep schools and wanted to enroll in Chilton, even though I was well beyond college when Gilmore Girls was on. Everyone at Chilton seemed fairly smart and it appeared to be a challenging and nurturing academic environment. They got to work on interesting projects and it all seemed so sophisticated. Sure you had to deal with classmates like Paris Gellar, but there are people like that at every school. I actually feel smarter just writing about Chilton. I can’t imagine what it must have cost to go there, but it got Rory into Yale so it was probably worth it.

Rydell High School – Grease

I loved Grease from the first time I saw it as a tween, but my desire to go to Rydell stems from one scene alone – the end of the year carnival. I was so impressed that they had a full carnival, including all the rides and games (not to mention the flying car – seriously, can someone explain that to me? That ending made no sense).

 

Imagine my disappointment when I finally made it to high school and not only did we not have an end of the year carnival, we didn’t have an end of the year anything. We didn’t even get a senior trip. The best we ever got was a trip to an amusement park in 8th grade, but all I remember about that was that there was a lot of drama associated with that trip (not surprising when you take a group of 13 year olds anywhere). It also came as a surprise that high schoolers don’t all look like they are thirty (Stockard Channing, I’m looking at you).I was totally disillusioned – I’m still waiting for my Grease-like carnival. BSHS – you let me down.

Eastland School for Girls – The Facts of Life

This choice could be a continuation of my prep school fascination, but this selection is more about Mrs. Garrett than anything else. If you are going to spend time away from your family, you want someone like Edna Garrett keeping an eye on you. She was so warm and loving that the girls she was in charge of became like her daughters. It was a nurturing environment that anyone would want to be a part of. Of course, going to a fancy schmancy school like Eastland should have resulted in a career beyond running a novelty store, but at least they got to hang out with George Clooney in the process (who I recognized, even at the tender age of 9, was a stone cold fox)

 

Request a Transfer

Shermer High School – The Breakfast Club

While they ultimately wound up being friendly after a day in detention together, Shermer High School didn’t seem like a very friendly environment. The cliques seemed too prevalent and well-defined. That is a realistic depiction of high school, but with the added bonus of a principal that was a real jerk and who could make life miserable for everyone. I’m guessing there were definitely not any carnivals at Shermer – that seemed like a place where there wasn’t a lot of school sanctioned fun period. The upside – they did have a very nice library.

 

Westerberg High School – Heathers

If the cliques seemed inhospitable in The Breakfast Club, they were even worse in Heathers. The cruelty factor was at an all-time high thanks to queen bee Heather Chandler, who ruled the school with an iron red scruchnie and generally made life miserable for everyone else. Even her so-called friends were not immune to her reign of terror. Add in a homicidal maniac who is randomly killing popular kids and trying to blow up the school and this is not a place I’d want to spend my formative years (even if I had the right name). Clip NSFW

 

McKinley High – Glee

The show has done nothing to make living in Lima, Ohio look all that glamorous; the fact that everyone wants to get the hell out of dodge is way too close to my own high school experience. I had a great time in high school, but I also counted down the days until I could expand my horizons a bit and move on. I’m not built to live in a small town. But the real issue with McKinley is having to deal with people randomly breaking into song all the time. I imagine that is not only distracting but also highly annoying. We get it – you love to sing. Now shut your yap and move through the halls quietly. I was kicked out of our library for talking; these kids do a complete musical number in the stacks.Add in the fact that a lot of slushies are thrown around and that Mr. Schuester is kind of a creeper and I’d rather matriculate elsewhere.

What pop culture schools and universites would you want to attend? What pop culture institutions of learning would make you want to skip school? Sound off in the comments below.

Grease Sing-a-Long

I have a special place in my heart for Grease. It’s the first musical that I really remember being smitten with. My mother would occasionally play soundtracks from other Broadway shows, but they clearly didn’t stick with me because I can’t even remember which ones they were (Carousel, maybe?). The songs from Grease are just so ridiculously catchy and accessible that they would get stuck in my head. It’s hard to hear “Summer Nights” or “Hopelessly Devoted to You” without wanting to sing along (but I’m getting ahead of myself). The plot is admittedly kind of silly, but that also made it pretty accessible to a newbie. And even at ten years old, I questioned the ending – was the moral of the story really that for the girl to get the guy, she just had to change everything about herself? But despite the questionable message I still loved it.

Grease actually has followed me most of my life. When I was a kid, we used to stage fake productions of Grease at a friend’s house (the same house where I was first exposed to soap operas). When I was in high school, our spring play was Grease and since I had a lot of friends in the show, I went to see the show a lot. My friend who first exposed me to Grease had a major role, so apparently all our faux rehearsals growing up paid off. I always found it ironic that in our high school version of the show they were forced to change the Rizzo storyline; instead of being upset that she might be pregnant, she had to be upset that she might be moving away, which really made absolutely no sense. And since my high school had one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the state, I’m not sure what they were trying to shield us from exactly. When you have a day care center in your school, you know what’s what. In college, one of my pledge songs was set to “We Go Together” (our other song was set to the Muppets theme song, so obviously I had a lot of creative control), so to this day whenever I hear that song I think of our version of the lyrics rather than the actual lyrics. Grease was also a movie that was a staple to our viewing rotation; it was a fun movie to have on and watch with a group because you didn’t really need to pay attention to know what was going on. My senior year, the Grease remix song was very popular and got a lot of play at various parties. In adulthood, I always stop on Grease if I happen upon it on TV; it’s a good movie to have on in the background while you’re doing other things. I’ve actually seen the edited version of the movie more often than the original, so I’m always surprised when I see the deleted scenes that aren’t in the cable TV version of the film. All in all, I’ve probably seen Grease 30+ times, though not necessarily always in its entirety.

So it was a no-brainer that when the Grease Sing-a-Long rolled into town last week that I would be in attendance.

The Grease Sing-a-Long is exactly what it sounds like: the theatrical version of Grease, but with subtitles for all the songs, kind of like karaoke. And unlike most movie-going experiences, you are not only encouraged to sing along, it’s expected. This is pretty much a dream come true for me since if I like a song, I have a very difficult time not singing along with it. I do this constantly, despite the fact that I don’t have a very good singing voice and that half the time I don’t even realize I am doing it. I just can’t help myself. Ask anyone who has been on a long road trip with me. I’ve done this for as long as I can remember, which explains why this scene from The Heartbreak Kid got such a big laugh from the person I saw it with. He could totally identify with Ben Stiller.

 

So the idea that I got to view Grease and not annoy anyone by singing along (poorly) was kind of a dream come true.

I was surprised by the number of people that were there; I knew the movie had a following, but the theater was fairly packed. There were even a lot of people who came in costume – lots of Pink Ladies jackets, a few black spandex Sandy outfits and one guy who was a good sport and came dressed as Danny Zuko (though he didn’t look like that was his idea). I’m a fan, but these people were taking it to a whole new level. But that also meant that people were there to have a good time, which made the whole experience a lot more fun.

To entertain us before the feature, they showed old episodes of the Monkees, which of course I enjoyed. They then showed some vintage theater concession stand commercials and the original trailer for Grease, which I’d never seen before. Then it was show time. I was a little bummed that they didn’t have subtitles for the Grease theme song, but that didn’t stop people from singing along anyway and hooting and hollering for the various actors. This was the first time I’ve seen the movie since the passing of Jeff Conaway, so his first scenes were a little bittersweet. I was curious to see what the participation would be like for the first song; while people sang along with the theme, it was kind of muted. I wondered if people were going to be a little subconscious about belting out tunes with a bunch of strangers.

But then “Summer Nights” started, and it was pretty clear that people were just going to go for it. And it was awesome. Knowing I don’t have a good voice, I sang pretty quietly, but there were some people in the audience who could really sing. And all the voices coming together produced a really nice melody. And even though you couldn’t see anyone’s face very clearly in the dark you could just tell that everyone in the theater was singing with a big smile on their face. You could hear in in their voices. When the first song ended, everyone broke into applause. It really was fantastic.

The enthusiasm carried through the rest of the film, with people laughing in all the right places. This is the first time in a long time that I’ve watched the movie while giving it my full attention rather than just having it on in the background and I have to admit that it is even more ridiculous than I remembered. I mean, Stockard Channing (who I love) has got to be the oldest teenager ever, as she was 34 years old when they filmed the movie; that’s even older than Gabrielle Carteris was when she played Andrea on Beverly Hills, 90210. Most schools do not have end of year carnivals that have ferris wheels, a fact I was sad to discover when I got older. For such good friends, it is odd that the T-birds hadn’t seen Kenickie or Danny all summer to know what they were up to – I’m thinking that whatever city/town Rydell High was supposed to be in that they probably would have run into Kenickie when he was “luggin’ boxes at Bargain City.” And even if they hadn’t seen each other all summer, how could the T-birds, or Sandy for that matter, be surprised that Danny had lettered in track? Wouldn’t the fact that he was on the track team come up in conversation? And the biggest question of all – why the hell does the car that Sandy and Danny drive off in during the final sequence start to fly? These questions haunt me. I wonder what a person watching the film for the first time, without the benefit of nostalgia would think. I may have to do a little social experiment.

All in all, it was a very fun night with good company and good sports all around. It was a nice way to kick of the week and blow off some steam. If you are a fan of Grease, I’d recommend checking out the Sing-a-Long if it comes through your town. Grab a bunch of friends, perhaps have an adult beverage or two beforehand, and get your sing on. After all, Grease is the time, is the place, is the motion, Grease is the way we are feeling.