Like many people that likely watched “Grease Live,” I’m a huge fan of 1978’s “Grease.” I’ve seen it at least a thousand times and watch it every single time it’s on television. So naturally fans like me would go in to “Grease Live” comparing it to the 1978 movie, consciously and sub-consciously. It was a risky venture giving us a live broadcast of “Grease,” but FOX took a gamble, and a wise one by getting in on the live musical broadcast gimmick, starting off with one of the most entertaining musicals of all time. “Grease Live” is pretty much the same as we always knew it, seemingly taking bits and pieces from the 1978 movie and including numbers from the original musical. Surely enough while I was worried about what I was getting in to, a lot of my reservations about casting, and production were absolutely destroyed with what was a pretty damn fun, three hour broadcast.
“Grease” is known for being a very raunchy and somewhat adult musical and, much like the movie, FOX did a good job balancing out what raunchy moments to include, and what to censor. A lot of the lyrics from “Grease Lightning” were sadly censored, but much of the sex humor, including Rizzo’s whole sub-plot involving teen pregnancy is included. Hell, it’s the center of her character’s inclusion, but you never know what networks in this PC crazed age will do to keep people from complaining to the FCC. The production did stumble every now and then, that’s a given with live broadcasts sometimes. During the big prom sequence where the students dance to “The Hand Jive,” the sound completely gave out for at least five seconds.
Whether they were a part of the original musical or not, I just didn’t enjoy the featured sub-plots for the live production; I found the whole idea of nerd Eugene suddenly being accepted by the T-Birds rushed and so silly. Finally, the cheerleader competition seemed injected just to showcase the skills by Julianne Hough and Elle Lemore. That said, the production was mostly dynamic and absolutely energetic, bringing to life a lot of the memorable moments of the musical with a unique vision. There’s even a great moment during the prom where Danny and Sandy dance, and the picture cuts to a black and white boxed ratio showing what we’d be seeing in a 1950’s television.
FOX and co. just had their A game for this broadcast, showing us behind the scenes montages, exploring how hard the actors worked to pull off their big numbers, and featuring a new iteration of “Grease is the Word.” Jessie J did a good job giving her version of the show’s theme song, and I’ll even say that Mario Lopez did a bang up job as host, never trying to outshine the broadcast once. “Grease Live” was such a tightly filmed, entertaining production, that I really think FOX can deliver a new and fantastic iteration of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” which is right around the corner.
Here are five observations I had about “Grease Live” that I took away from the big show.
5. The Rain Almost Tainted the Production
When you air a live broadcast, you have to prepare for anything, and sadly “Grease Live” was very nearly derailed by a rain storm. You could tell the production had some obstacles as Jessie J performed her big song in the opening walking past cast members holding umbrellas, and surely enough Mario Lopez announces the rain fall. This prompted certain scenes to take place in doors, but didn’t change the energy or rhythm of the broadcast.
4. The Best Numbers in the Movie are The Best Numbers in the Broadcast
I’ve always been a huge fan of “Summer Lovin’,” but I’ve found people usually prefer “You’re The One That I Want.” Regardless of which you love, the show did a wonderful job performing the most memorable numbers from the musical. “Summer Lovin’” was fantastic, “The Hand Jive” was high energy and exciting, and “You’re the One That I Want” was fun, cute, and slightly altered the ending that gets a lot of criticism. Surely, Sandy changes for Danny, but Danny also changes for Sandy, both of whom decide in the end to stay the way they are and be a couple.
3. There was a lot of Fun Casting Choices
Along with the unique casting of Vanessa Hudgens as Rizzo and Wendell Pierce as Coach Calhoun, viewers were treated to a lot of interesting cameos and walk ons. Didi Conn who played Frency in the 1978 movie appears as a waitress who consoles Carly Rae Jepsen who dons the pink wig of Frenchy, Yvette Gonzalez Nacer from the hit kids show “The Fresh Beat Band” does a bang up job playing Cha Cha DiGregorio, Mario Lopez appears as Vince Fontaine, Eve Plumb appears as school mechanic Mrs. Murdock, Joe Jonas does a bang up rendition of “Hand Jive,” and Boyz II Men make a surprise appearance as the teen angels singing “Beauty School Drop Out.”
2. Julianne Hough Looked Amazing
Sandy is supposed to be sweet and a bit naïve without being bland or vanilla, and Julianne Hough did a wonderful job filling shoes once worn by Olivia Newton John. She has the wide eyed dreamy quality that really makes you believe any guy can fall for her, and she has a damn good time conveying her innocence, while also pulling off some incredible moves. Hough is just a damn fine dancer, and she shows off a lot of her skills during the big cheerleader scene, her dance off with Danny during the prom sequence, and the finale with “You’re The One That I Want.” Hough also does a wonderful job with “Hopelessly Devoted To You.” Hough charged in to this production and really did the character justice.
1. The Night Belonged to Vanessa Hudgens
At the end of the production, despite everyone ranging from excellent to mediocre, Vanessa Hudgens stole the musical from every one of her cast mates. True, Julianne Hough did a bang up job as Sandy, but Vanessa pulled off the feat of injecting even more edge to an already edgy and hard nosed character like Rizzo, who is mainly an antagonist during the musical and then transforms in to a sympathetic tortured individual. According to reports, Hudgens tragically lost her father to cancer the very morning of the musical, and yet she barely seemed to miss a beat as Rizzo, the leader of the Pink Ladies.
As Rizzo she was sexy, spunky, funny, and kicked ass with her dance numbers. She also looked gorgeous with the pink jacket and short curly hair. I’m not sure which part of Hudgens as Rizzo I loved more, watching her walk around in short shorts during the sleep over scene acing “Look at Me I’m Sandra Dee,” or the raunchy dance during the big prom scene. “There Are Worse Things I Could Do,” Rizzo’s big number has always been my least favorite part of the musical, but Hudgens did a bang up job, turning it in to a soulful rendition filled with anger and desperation. Hudgens is much more charismatic a performer than people give her credit for, and she lent flavor to an already interesting character like Rizzo.