I first saw the movie Grease when I was around ten years old. It was at my friend’s slumber party and we watched it around three times before we all eventually had to go back to our homes, begging our host to let us borrow the VHS tape she used to record it off of cable. Grease was and still is “the word.”
I remember when the 20th Anniversary Edition came out and I had to wait a bit but I eventually got it as a Christmas present. I was excited to find that there was a copy of the script along with the VHS and a single CD of the Grease Megamix, everyone’s favorite roller rink jam at the time. Our parents were already well aware of the existence of Grease and would delight us with stories of how “they saw it at the drive-in.” Everyone wanted to be Sandy. I was all about Frenchy. I got older and realized that Rizzo was actually my main Pink Lady, but that took some time.
I also discovered that Grease! was actually a Broadway musical first before John and Olivia became the icons we know and love. The Original Broadway Soundtrack was full of songs that I loved and just had to deal with them only being played in the background during some of the movie scenes. I’ve seen a few local productions of the musical and was never disappointed. I just don’t feel it’s possible to really “mess up” Grease.
Fox’s Grease Live! far from messed anything up. I didn’t know what to expect honestly. I’m 50/50 on the live shows that NBC aired and wondered what Fox would do differently. I didn’t read up much on it other than knowing who would play the leads. I was happy that Vanessa Hudgens would be playing Rizzo and was excited to see Aaron Tveit in something else because I love him in the recent Les Miserables film. Enjolras is the man. Aaron was hard to unsee as that character, but all in all I think he played Danny Zuko to the best of his ability and he did a great job. I never watched Dancing With the Stars but I had always heard wonderful things about Julianne Hough and figured based on looks alone that she’d play Sandy just fine.
So, Grease Live! starts (I watched it on my DVR after it aired and I also was watching a telecast because I live on the west coast) and I’m sucked in instantly. Jessie J starts singing “Grease” after Danny and Sandy’s iconic goodbye at the beach intro and lo and behold the 4th wall is so broken and I can feel my ‘this is incredible’ senses tingling. As cliche as it is, I happen to be a huge fan of breaking the 4th wall and when it’s done as well as Fox did it last night, I can’t help but love it. All of my questions about how they were going to pull this off were answered in about three minutes. Mario Lopez (the host of the whole she-bang) informed us that this production involved around 100 cast members, 600 crew & staff members and was filmed on 21 sets across two soundstages (the back lot of Warner Bros. studios in Burbank, CA) and suddenly, there were the actors scrambling by breathless, grabbing bottles of water, jumping onto golf carts, making their way to wherever they had to be next to make their marks (timing is everything on live TV) and still taking time to wave at the audience all while Lopez is letting us know that we’ll be back after this commercial break. The kicker: they all looked like they were having the time of their lives.
The audience was so involved in Grease Live! that they became extras. The costumes paid homage to the movie even if they weren’t necessarily worn by the characters we remember wearing them from the movie. It was also a cool mix of the Broadway version and the movie version and it became fun to notice all of the references from each that you might miss if you weren’t paying attention. Some of the scenes I felt dragged a bit but hey, that’s the Broadway version. If you’ve seen it, you know.
We got some bonuses as well while watching. Carly Rae Jepsen (who I had no idea is 30 years old…good job, girlfriend!) played Frenchy and introduced us to an original song of hers called “All I Need is an Angel” which fit in so perfectly I scrambled to Google to see if this was just a song I somehow forgot was in the show. Didi Conn (Frenchy from the movie) played Vi, the waitress at the diner and their scene made TV history, I’m sure of it. It was surreal. It was wild. It was all of those awesome adjectives that just describe a really pivotal moment on TV that fans of Grease won’t forget. Boyz II Men (the three members left in the group) played the part of Teen Angel collectively and I don’t think anyone could complain.
Julianne Hough’s quip about “Who wants to watch a bunch of amateurs dancing on TV?” made me lol and even have to rewind because I couldn’t stop lol-ing. There they go, breaking that 4th wall again. There they go, making me fall in love with this whole thing again.
Vanessa Hudgens played an excellent Rizzo although I felt her delivery for some lines could have been better. I can’t say too much though because her father passed away on Saturday and there she was playing Rizzo the next day and I know it was for him. There’s no way it couldn’t have been. “There are Worst Things I Could Do” made me cry (not the first time it has) and I was crying that much harder knowing that personal detail of the actress’s life. Great job, Gabriella. I will forever love you and hold you dear to my heart.
Marty’s rendition of “Freddy My Love” had an unexpected wardrobe change that obviously was cool camera trickery but it was flawless. This scene is where I realized “Oh, hey, they’re doing the Broadway version!” and I couldn’t be more ecstatic. Keke Palmer as Marty gave us a whole new Marty and a Marty that I love more than any other Marty I’ve ever seen. This is 2016 Marty. She’s boy-crazy, sure, but with an air of confidence and strength we’re not used to seeing Marty’s character have.
Fox did some subtle changes to make it network TV friendly but also cut out a lot of the body shaming stuff and definitely portrayed the female characters as being more than just pretty faces to be used and abused by the T Birds. While still reflecting the time period, they managed to give us a more modern spin on the female struggles of the time without taking anything away from the original story. I was more than happy about that. And Mrs. Murdock was so amazing. From the moment we saw her all the way to the famous “Haul ass, kid” line I felt the feminist in me rejoice. Some people recognized her instantly but it took me a whole day to realize that she was Jan Brady from The Brady Bunch, played by Eve Plumb. My skills in actor/actress recognition just isn’t as sharp as it used to be, I guess. 🙂
My favorite T Bird in this production was Doody. His acoustic guitar rendition of “Those Magic Changes” (my favorite from the Broadway show) was perfect and it was intermittently played throughout a rather “shipworthy” moment between Danny and Sandy. Tveit and Hough were perfect for each other. I believed every word they said to each other and every flirty-eyed sparkle they’d throw at each other throughout the whole show. However, John Travolta wore that dance outfit better. Sorry, Aaron. He had to help out Jordan Fisher at the end of the song (most likely to aid in those high notes of the original song performed by Sha na na on the film’s soundtrack which were more than likely out of his vocal range) but the harmony was lovely and that whole scene made the whole thing for me and I can’t really explain why. It probably has to do with the song. If I love a song that much, it’ll affect me no matter how it’s performed.
The dancing was great. Zach Woodlee had a hand in it (the choreographer from Glee) and I could definitely notice some “Vocal Adrenaline-esque” moves. Julianne Hough won Dancing with the Stars two seasons in a row for a reason. Again, Aaron was no Travolta but he handled himself just fine. I have Epilepsy so I could barely watch the “Greased Lightning” scene (way too flashy for me, Fox) but I was able to glimpse those cool jumpsuits a bit and gave another kudos so the costume designers. They couldn’t have done a better job, in my opinion. We learn that Mario Lopez is playing Vince Fontaine and I liked the way Marty handled herself in that scene between the characters that probably will always creep a lot of us out. “Minor alert! Minor alert!”I screamed at the TV. But again, it was a different time period. (And that doesn’t make it any less creepy for me!) Joe Jonas missed his cue as Johnny Casino (Johnny Casino & the Gamblers is the name of the band playing at the dance) once but it wasn’t even worth noting because honestly, it took me a whole five minutes to realize that was even Joe Jonas. At first, it seemed like it may have been a microphone audio issue too. But when the camera cut to Joe, who seemed to be scrambling to find the lyrics I realized, “No, he missed it.” But no big deal. Seriously. Again, it’s live TV. It can happen.
The race at Thunder Road scene was semi-lame but they did the best they could considering. I think my only issue was with the dash cams. There wasn’t anything eventful really happening in those shots and it would have worked out just fine without them. It stuck with their whole “breaking the 4th wall” theme and speaking of shots, those overhead ones we saw were filmed by a crew floating around on cables above the actors and that’s pretty damn cool to me.
I was very happy to see Eugene become a T Bird. It’s become cool to be nerdy these days and even Doody had a little nerd-vibe to his look. Jan was her quirky self. Carlos PenaVega as Kenickie was pretty lackluster. I think it was because he is a pretty short actor. I’m not picking on short people, (I’m 5’1), but I was so used to Jeff Conaway and how tall he is from the movie that it just seemed like unless Kenickie was in a scene with Rizzo he was just getting lost in a sea of all of the other leather jackets. Ana Gasteyer as Principal McGee and Wendell Pierce as Coach Calhoun were great and Didi Conn (as I mentioned before) was nothing to complain about. The entire cast played their parts just fine and I realized Ana is still as hilarious as she was when I used to watch her on SNL. No complaints about any of the vocals. They all sang beautifully.
The final scene, “We Go Together” I won’t spoil for you. Just watch. It sent me off with a huge smile and I’m sure fans will definitely appreciate how all of that was done. The actors’ sendoffs made me want to give them a standing ovation from my own living room and there they were racing by on these mini golf buses again to get to the part of the set where they would take their final bows, obviously exhausted but still obviously enjoying themselves. There was a pretty hilarious moment where the driver of one of them hit the curb and the thing nearly toppled over. I believe Wendell Pierce was the passenger and his “OMG” face and eyes to match made me giggle a lot. I’m glad the thing didn’t topple over because well, although we all would have laughed about it forever, I’m sure people would have gotten hurt and that would not have been cool.
So, I give Grease Live! 4.5/5 stars and will be keeping it on my DVR for awhile so I can watch it again. And again probably. I am really hoping Fox does something like this in the future and as long as they stick to this formula I won’t be upset. I don’t even know if NBC can do anything nearly as good now. I just don’t.
I’m sure if you missed it you’ll be able to catch it somewhere (this is the internet after all) and I hope you love it just as much as I did. It’s high energy vibe was hard not to fall into, especially since even viewers were made to feel like they were part of the show. Throw your mittens around your kittens and grab a comfy seat in that malt shop in the sky and give it a try!