This foray into live TV musicals has been an interesting journey thus far. NBC’s been the only one taking it on (so much so, that many on Twitter last night thought they were watching NBC), and they’ve been improving, as far as it goes. Sound of Music was a cardboard production. Peter Pan was confusing. They finally started to get their act together with The Wiz! But I think Fox has upped the ante with Grease: Live.
I was SUPER stoked, as a huge fan of Grease and live musical events. And I was really eager to see how Fox was going to pull it off. Here are some thoughts:
The High Notes:
The production quality. The sets. The costumes. The camera work. All of it was just stunning. Greased Lightning and Freddy My Love were real standouts, technically speaking.
Vanessa Hudgens. Damn, girl. I’m not the biggest fan of “Worst Things…” but she knocked it out of the park. And under such emotional duress. I don’t think I’d have the strength. Well done.
The energy. Keeping up the dance-y vibe of Grease is a tremendous undertaking, particularly during the dialogue-heavy spots. On stage, and to an extent on film, the lurid language keeps up some of the spunk, but, as expected, much of that was cut in favor of a family-friendly presentation. And yet, the energy was still there, in part thanks to Patty and Eugene, serving as highly-caffeinated transitions.
Doody. Jordan Fisher. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. And what a great way to incorporate “Magic Changes.” He was truly the stand-out T-Bird.
The women, in general. I know some thought there was over-acting, but … that’s how it’s supposed to be. All the Pink Ladies, Patty, Principal McGee and Blanche, Mrs. Murdock – the shop mechanic (an appropriate path for Jan Brady, btw) and the adorable Didi Conn — brilliant.
The Average Range:
The live audience. I’ve been BEGGING for a live audience. It feels like the biggest missing element in NBC’s shows. But due to the staging of Grease: Live, this was one production that didn’t seem to NEED it. Between the soundstage traveling and the fancy camera movement, there was a constant and energized flow. Not to mention that the cast seemed well stocked with extras, so if we ever had a moment that needed some audience noise, surely they could have provided it. It was just the wrong venue for a live audience. Some mentioned the live audience used as background extras was distracting, but I didn’t get that.
Frenchy’s new song. Carly Rae Jepsen wasn’t at fault, though. The song itself felt out of place, completely lacking any doo-wop, era-specific strokes.
Sandy and Danny. Oh, they were great when they were singing and dancing. But speaking…. not so much. Aaron Tveit has a great voice and looked swell in short shorts. But when it came to just speaking… let’s just say, it really made me miss Travolta. John made Danny a quirky cool, an oddball character with deliberate delivery. And Julianne Hough was… fine. Great dancer. Meh.
Kenickie. Kenickie is supposed to be the real cool one. The bad ass. I mean, come on, it’s why he and Rizzo work so well, and it’s why the Kenickie/Danny bro-ship is so good – Kenickie makes Danny cooler, challenges him. Danny, in turn, softens Kenickie, cools him down when he gets out of hand. Carlos PenaVega was way forgettable. Which for me, ruined the BFF drag racing scene a bit.
The golf carts. Some liked them. I did not. And I love backstage stuff. But this felt like too much backstage stuff during the show. I kind of wish it was a secret, revealed in a “making of” at the end. But it’s relatable to anyone whose done live theatre. I was in a Shakespeare play in college, where I had to exit upstage right, run up 2 flights of stairs, down a hallway, through the dressing room and costume closet, down one flight of stairs, through the lobby, through the pitch-black shop to make my downstage left entrance mere lines later. Blind, by the way. I wasn’t wearing my glasses and didn’t have contacts. But that’s theatre, folks. Save the backstage secrets for after the show, not during.
Mario Lopez. Why was he hosting? At that point, they should have courted Ryan Seacrest. Would have been funnier, anyway.
Apparently, during the actual LIVE broadcast, there were some tech issues. By the time it got to me, they had cleaned it up, so I can’t make any real comment there.
I really liked it. No, it didn’t replace the film. But boy, was it fun. This is exactly why I’m not freaking out about the upcoming RHPS remake, just sayin’.
NBC’s next musical is Hairspray, which is strikingly similar in energy to Grease, with even more of a social agenda. Hopefully, they’ll take some cues from Fox’s success.