‘Grease: Live’ new flair to classic hit


When I was eight years old, my parents bought my sister and me a karaoke machine. The only CD the clunky machine came with was the “Grease” soundtrack. So, what started out as annoyance for only having one CD to sing with developed into the two of us becoming absolutely obsessed with “Grease.” After falling in love with the songs, we got the movie and watched it so many times— I’m surprised we didn’t break the VCR. We knew every word to the entire “Grease” soundtrack (even “We Go Together”) and would constantly argue about who got to be Sandy and who got to be Danny. Naturally, as we got older, we stopped using the karaoke machine, but my love for “Grease” never stopped.

Since “Grease” is so iconic for myself, and basically the entire country, when the announcement of “Grease: Live” came out, all I could hope for was that they didn’t butcher the original film with a poorly constructed made-for-TV version. However, “Grease: Live” did not disappoint. Although not perfect, “Grease: Live” stretched the limits of what can be done on television and successfully added to the new pop fad that is live television musicals.

Director Thomas Krall, recently well-known for the Broadway smash “Hamilton,” managed to give new life to “Grease” by combining elements from the 1971 musical version and the classic 1978 film adaptation, while still adding a new modern moments to the iconic and beloved show.

The television broadcast started out with pop singer Jessie J strutting between the multiple sets, which were located on two soundstages and an outdoor area at Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank, California. This unique opening, which included characters in costume backstage taking selfies, was definitely an attention grabber that added a nice contemporary twist to “Grease (Is the Word).” Even when the characters and Jessie J got outside, they all held up umbrellas in order to avoid the light rain shower. A simple reminder that the show really was live and anything could happen.

The cast was a surprising mix of familiar faces. Julianne Hough of “Dancing With the Stars” and Aaron Tveit of “Les Miserables” starred as Sandy and Danny. The rest of the main cast included “High School Musical’s” Vanessa Hudgens as Rizzo, “Scream Queen’s” Keke Palmer as Marty, “Big Time Rush’s” Carlos  Penavega as Kenickie and “Call Me Maybe” singer Carly Rae Jepsen as Frenchy. The cast may read as a list of former Disney and Nickelodeon stars, but everyone in the group fit their role, even if it wasn’t in the traditional way. Hough fit Sandy well with her looks and impressive dance moves, and Tveit brought the sex appeal and swagger necessary for Danny Zuko. Palmer as Marty, Penavega as Kinickie, and Jordan Fisher as Doody brought diversity to the leading cast, which is an important reflection of how most high schools look these days.

However, there were moments where the acting just didn’t work. Like when Marty gushes over her military pen-pals and when Kinickie asks Danny to be his second at Thunder Row, the acting felt cheesy and too over-the-top. But overall, the cast did have great chemistry and seemed like real-life friends.

Maybe the acting took a bit of a hit in order to prepare for the musical numbers, because they were what made “Grease: Live” rock. From “Summer Nights” to “Greased Lightnin’” to “Born To Hand Jive,” each musical number was filled with incredible choreography and impressive camerawork.

Even the softer solo moments were memorable. Tveit’s version of  “Sandy” showcased his talented Broadway voice. Palmer’s “Freddy My Love” included an impressive costume change and was a catchy tune missing from the film version. Most notably, Hudgen’s “There Are Worse Things” was nearly perfect and very inspiring due to the fact that she lost her father to cancer the day before the show aired.

The only scene that did not measure up was the Boyz II Men rendition of “Beauty School Dropout.” Maybe I am biased, because Franky Avalon’s version is perfection, but Boyz II Men singing the classic song didn’t work for me. Also, Carly Rae Jepsen’s “All I Need Is An Angel,” which was written and added for this version, was unnecessary and unimpressive.

“You’re The One That I Want,” my personal “Grease” favorite, did not disappoint and transitioned smoothly into “We Go Together,” which made me desperately want to be a part of the cast as they sang along and broke into a dance party that seemed so genuinely fun.

As long as you can overlook occasional bad acting, the transitions between various sets and cutting camerawork, entertaining musical numbers and the diverse cast made “Grease: Live” a worthy follow-up to the original hit and has no doubt set the bar high for future live television musicals.

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