Fox threw their hat in the live musicals game last night with Grease: Live. Thankfully the telecast had many more highs than lows as the network took advantage of a huge backlot and lots of sets instead of taking the approach NBC has been using with making the production more like Broadway where everything takes place on one main stage with set pieces moving on and off the stage. From Jessie J’s killer rendition of “Grease is the Word” (while walking thru the entire rained out backlot), to the ending carnival number, Grease: Live was an entertaining ride. Neither El Nino or a drop in sound could damper everyone’s spirits.
The cast had a lot of work cut out for them because Grease: The Movie is a huge favorite of musical lovers. Aaron Tveit managed to pull off a pretty difficult task. Bring an iconic character to life in a way people will recognize and love, without turning it into a full on John Travolta impression. Tveit made Danny Zuko his own while staying true to the version most of us know.
Vanessa Hudgens probably had the biggest shoes to fill. Most every girl I know wanted to be Rizzo because she had the best lines and one of the best songs of the whole show. Why be the sweet girl when you can be the fun bad girl? Stockard Channing really knew how to play Rizzo with a sincerity that made what could have been an unlikable character into someone we could identify with the most. Hudgens went in front of the camera hours after losing her father, and like Tveit, made the character her own.
My only big criticism for the night is unfortunately Julianne Hough. Sandy is a bit of a bland character. She is sweet, pure, and hopelessly naïve which does not make for an interesting or exciting character to lead a show. Fortunately for the movie version, Olivia Newton-John was able to infuse an adorable lovableness that made the wholesome lead stand out amongst a cast of more interesting and outrageous characters. Hough was unable to do more than bat her big, beautiful eyes and the rest of the cast easily overshadowed her. The only time Hough came alive was during the big “Hand Jive” dance and her “Hopelessly Devoted” solo. By that point it was too little, too late.
Other Highs from the Night:
Keke Palmer along with well-choreographed set change knocked things out of the park with “Freddy My Love,” a song that is not in the movie, but is in the stage show. The smooth change from Frenchie’s bedroom to a USO stage (complete with real Sailors in the live audience) helped to set the musical apart from anything NBC had done so far.
“Grease Lightning” is easily the movie and stage show’s most well-known number so the pressure to make it great was pretty high. Thanks to some well-timed off camera costume changes, dancing extras, and infectious enthusiasm from the performers, the iconic number went off without a hitch.
Using “Those Magic Changes” as a way to show off Jordan Fisher’s singing chops and montage Zuko’s tryout for various sports was very genius. Tveit handled the costume changes like a pro.
The original Frenchie, Didi Conn, playing Vi was a great cameo, especially since Vi mostly interacts with Frenchie in the movie so it felt like a nice passing of the torch. Carly Rae Jepsen was too freaking adorable as Frenchie. I kinda wished she would have been cast to play Sandy instead of Hough.
Ana Gasteyer and Haneefah Wood made a great comedic team as Principal McGee and Blanch. In fact all of the supporting characters helped to make the production fun to watch.
What did you think of Grease: Live? Did you sing along with the songs? Were you a little disappointed by Juliane Hough’s performance? Do you think Aaron Tveit made a good Danny Zuko? Let me know what you think in the comments section below.