Look, I’m not usually a musical kind of guy. Sure, I’ve seen one or two in my time. I might have even enjoyed Dreamgirls once, but musicals are generally not my cup of tea. With that said, I am a fan of the original Grease (1978). I have fond memories of watching it growing up. As a child of the 80’s, it played religiously on cable. I’d never admit to being a Grease fan then, but as an adult I have no problem letting my geek flag fly! Grease is awesome! John Travolta and Olivia Newton John just had beautiful chemistry. The songs were catchy and the dance numbers were amazing. Grease became a part of the American pop culture. I mean honestly, I’ve never been to a wedding where they haven’t played “You’re the One That I Want.” Have you?
So last night I sat down to watch Fox’s new Grease Live, with the wife and daughter. As a fan of the original, I was excited to share this with my daughter, curious to see what her reaction would be. After all the cast was chocked full of today’s up and coming stars! Stepping into Olivia Newton John and John Travolta’s shoes, are Julianne Hough and Aaron Tveit as Sandy and Danny Zuko.
Director Thomas Kail knocked it out of the park from the opening shot. Choosing to film the opening musical number in one long shot that followed Jesse J, as she sang “Grease is the Word” while walking through the expanse of the Grease Live Set. (I thought it was Pink the entire time!) It instantly gave the production an immense sense of scale. It also revealed the scope of the audience participation, as the audience members were used as background extras in a variety of scenes. As a film geek and former stage actor, I had a smile on my face through the entire production. I was most impressed with the scene transitions, that flowed flawlessly. One minute we’re in Frenchy’s bedroom slumber party, that suddenly transitions to a live stage show number and then transitions back to the bedroom. The skill it takes to pull that off in a live production, with the added pressure of live TV is breathtaking.
This is the first time that Aaron Tveit has crossed this geek’s radar. To step into John Travolta’s epic Danny Zuko must have been intimidating, but Tveit does it with confidence and a bit of a swagger. He’s handsome enough and indeed has the signing and dancing skills to back it up. I wanted to dislike him, I mean after all, he’s not my Danny….but the kid won me over. I’ve been aware of Julianne Hough for quite awhile. I vaguely knew of her on Dancing with the Stars, but I really took notice after her hilarious performance of “I Just Had Sex”, by the Lonely Island on Lip Synch Battles. If you haven’t seen it, track it down and keep in mind that she’s singing the song at her brother. The girl has a sense of humor. In this writer’s opinion, Vanessa Hudgens stole the show! Her performance as Rizzo was a highlight of the production, both hilarious and heartbreaking. Knowing that her father passed away mere hours before the live broadcast never left my mind. My hat goes off and my heart goes out to her for her loss! It’s a testament to the actor and to the craft of acting, that the show must go on! Her father would be proud! Other stand outs from the cast were Keke Rodgers as Marty and Carly Rae Jespen as Frenchy. Both ladies bring a charm and wit to their characters. We also get cameos from Didi Conn and Barry Pearl who played Frenchy and Doody in the original film. Finally, we get a surprise appearance by an unrecognizable Boyz II Men in Frenchy’s Diner fantasy. I looked at my wife and said, “That should have been Travolta. It would’ve been huge!”
The only drawback was the 3 hour length. I understand that it’s a live production and that Coca~Cola needs to get their air time, but 3 hours is a bit too much. My daughter bailed out, much to my dismay, after an hour and fifteen minutes stating it was just too slow. Not a good indicator for the younger crowd. But my wife and I loved it! I especially liked the adult humor hidden in the context of the script. A lot of the jokes sailed over my daughters head and had me laughing. She’d just look at me like I was crazy. Ah, the innocence of a 12 year old’s mind. Sadly it doesn’t last forever.
Grease Live sets a high bar for future musical television. The overall production value and technical achievement will be tough act to follow. I’d recommend Grease Live to any geek that enjoys musicals. Fans of the original will find enough here to like to have a great time.
If you loved Grease Live, pre-order your copy now!
Until next time,
The Geek Abides