“Grease Live” is the word
Coming from someone who never saw the movie “Grease” in full or even seen the Broadway show, it was interesting to see how little expectations could change during a performance. What turned me away from this 1960s throwback was the other 1960s throwbacks I was exposed to at the time. “Hairspray” was a unique commentary on the racial tensions of the time while Coppola’s adaptation of “The Outsiders” was a powerful coming of age story. Whenever I heard something on” Grease,” I would kind of shrug it off. It also didn’t help I only saw parts of the film as a kid and didn’t get into it. “Little Shop of Horrors” was more of my forte for its fun premise, well-written characters and catchy songs.
So when Paramount Television and the Fox Network teamed up to produce a live telecast of the Broadway show, my reaction was fairly obvious. After coming off of NBC’s streak of live musical telecasts (“Sound of Music,””Peter Pan” and recently “The Wiz”), part of me felt like it was a bit of a cash-in but mostly disinterested. Don’t get wrong, I didn’t think it couldn’t do a live musical. I just didn’t get hyped over it. So doth to my surprise when I found myself humming “Beauty School Dropout” and appreciating the presentation midway. By the time it was over, I was surprised at how enjoyable it was and how pale the NBC performances were in comparison.
Now before everyone leaps on, I will state this review is based on the performance only sans compare/contrast to the 1978 film or the Broadway version. I’m only going by what I saw here and not riding on my nostalgia seeing I wasn’t a fan of both. The story is basic, corny but a little fun at times. It centers on a group of high school seniors that are going through the typical situations one would experience. Peer pressure, gang tussles, social conflicts and even at one point pregnancy. There really isn’t much substance but it can be interesting these try and manage these situations. Sure they’re generic but have tend to have a heart and soul.
Aaron Tveit is a blast as Danny Zuko, the greaser with a heart of gold that has the usual thoughts of car mechanics and babes on the mind. But Aaron’s innocence when his character calls to be emotion and talk about his true state of mind really show during the “Sandy” number. Julianne Hough is sweet as Sandy, the heartthrob with a shy mind. Like Aaron’s take on Danny, Julianne’s Sandy shows similar trends as a teen who is good but not with the times. It makes her transition from nice girl to open-minded rewarding seeing how “safe” her character takes things.
The rest of the cast is remarkably good too. The teachers can get a funny line once in a while and the comic relief is your typical comic relief. Though I’m certain praise will be left for Vanessa Hudgens as Rizzo. The sassy leader of a clique who is all about risk taking and less about thinking through. This is a great contrast to the Sandy character who is all about being cautious while Rizzo just acts before thinking through. It should be noted that coming off of the success of “High School Musical,” it’s nice to see a Disney veteran broaden her horizons. Granted, Hudgens has proven this before with “Spring Breakers” so a role that calls for one to be rebellious and regretful surprisingly fits. You can tell she’s having fun with this role while also delivering the soul of the character.
The songs I’m sure everyone knows by now for those who are fans of “Grease.” The beach rock tones of “Greased Lightening,” the angelic feel of “Beauty School Dropout,” the ballad-like “Sandy” and the list goes on. A song is performed well when the singer can emote and carry a tune. Honestly, I don’t remember a single moment when I felt taken out of one’s singing. Though, maybe Boyz II Men’s rendition of “Beauty School Dropout” seeing the slow delivery kills some the punches in the lyrics. “Your The One That I Want” is energetic as “Summer Nights” is giddy in its delivery. But again, for my taste, I don’t recall a moment when I didn’t enjoy a song. But I didn’t have this feeling to hum each one aside from a select few. I just think they are fine tunes that are performed with plenty of energy.
With this elements in play, it makes for a decent performance. So what makes this stand out from all the others? The answer is in the technical work. When NBC performed their telecasts, they were always enclosed on a set and surrounded by effects crew and cameras. “Grease Live,” on the other hand, pushes things a step up. Instead of one sound stage, there are multiple ones making it interesting yet easy to transition from one place to the next. There’s always an audience around to cheer on or applaud at the end of each song. Sometimes, they will even allow them as extras into a scene which is very clever.
This is very evident early on during Jessie J’s performance of the opening song. A normal telecast would either cut the song out or just do something within the set. Here, they go all out. They have her move constantly from dressing room to the next, the camera is always following her and even they take the performance outside DURING THE RAIN! Yeah, during the live telecast, there was weather concerns about a rain storm. But as they say, the show must go on and use it to their advantage.
In fact, most of the time, I feel like I’m not watching a live show but a feature film sometimes. In a Broadway play, actors would have to emote and look to the audience in order to understand their emotion. Seeing this is a TV production, we get a better advantage at seeing close-ups and these multiple camera set-ups which give a better look at the environment. Its a very clever, and from the looks of it, possibly complex presentation that obviously doesn’t look easy.
My only nitpicks are questioning how the audience during the filming was able to move from one place to the next (unless they were positioned in one spot which feels kind of a bummer) and that with the complex camera work, it does make me wonder why this wasn’t a feature film for television. When they would show a close up of someone’s face or a split screen, I would feel that emotion and be cheated into thinking I was watching a theatrical feature by the amount of staging and blocking.
So overall, “Grease Live” was a nice surprise. I found myself amazed at how all out the production was to deliver a musical spectacle. Future live telecasts should probably take a cue from this one. While I can’t say it was 100% seeing some audio issues and the climactic drag race being one of the most embarrassing (reduced to shaking cameras and actors sitting in toy vehicles suited more for soapbox racing), it was an enjoyable performance none the less. You can tell your having fun when the actors and audience jive with it. All I have left to say is that I’m certainly looking forward toward Fox’s telecast of Rocky Horror with more hope than ever.
Posted on February 3, 2016, in In Theaters (Sort of), Rental Corner, Thoughts on Hollywood and Stuff, Uncategorized and tagged 1960s, Aaron Tveit, Audience, Fox Network, Grease, Grease Live, Greased Lightening, Julianne Hough, Live performance, NBC, rental corner, Stage, Telecast, Theater, Vanessa Hudgens. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.