Theatre Thursday: How Grease’s Summer Lovin’ Warmed Up the Winter

Yesterday Fox rivaled NBC’s live musicals with Grease: Live. They upped the anti by adding an audience, and filming on a huge indoor/outdoor set. The show definitely had its flaws but had a fantastic cast and was so much fun, it was an overall success. Many will argue over the quality and talent within the past three NBC live broadcasts, with The Wiz being the only decently enjoyable one of the bunch. But now with this version of Grease, Fox finally cracked the code on how to do these Broadway styled adventures in the modern era.

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NBC’s past shows, at best, had left me feeling cold. Though effort was put into some areas (casting/costumes in The Wiz, etc.) the majority felt like a quick rushed cash effort to put something on for the holidays. But Fox’s Grease felt like an actual, honest to god show, with actual, honest to god set pieces – what a concept. No digital backdrops or strange wire acts here. This, my friends, was theater, done as it should be – big and beautiful. The use of the Warner Brothers sound stage was truly a work of art, and the “ballet” of the entire team – cast and crew – felt like the best Tony winning dance I had ever seen on the small screen.

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Grease featured one of the best casts thus far for one of these gambles, including Aaron Tveit (Les Mis) as Danny, Julianne Hough (Footloose) as Sandy, and Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical) as Rizzo. These three, along with the rest of the ensemble, brought some much needed pizzaz to a musical that, quite frankly, has had too many moments in the spotlight. The show got a whole new layer of depth to the quality of acting when it was announced the morning before the premiere that Hudgen’s father had passed away, and she was still going to go on. Even with such a loss, Vanessa did a lovely job. Seriously, all actors take note: this is what a professional looks like. She sold her scenes, and finally found the role that was tailored for her, and definitely an upgrade after her recent Broadway stint in the Gigi revival. You go, Vanessa! Werk it!

The ensemble was filled with some highs and lows, and with some supporting players that were anything but supportive. Carly Rae Jepsen was the ditziest Frenchie to ever have existed, Mario Lopez still looked too young to be Vince Fontaine (#TeamGenes), and 90’s favorites Boyz II Men as the “Teen Angels” seemed very shoehorned in, and maybe should stick to being talent show judges (#SorryNotSorry).

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The rest of the cast do their thing well, and shine in a few moments that take them from “Interesting Cast Choice” to “Brilliant Casting Choice” – with the best examples of that being Jordan Fisher as Doody and Keke Palmer as Marty, who took characters that no one wanted to draw fan art of, to ones that will fill every theatre-themed Tumblr for years to come. Julianne as Sandy was cute, even though she’s playing a character that has about as much zest as a dried up prune. Aaron as Danny played the part by the books, without anything new, except for the fact he’s the first Danny I am actually attracted to. Good job, Fox, good job.

Grease had a lot of memorable moments that need to be pointed out. The opening number, featuring Jessie J doing a fantastic tribute to both Sandy’s iconic leather outfit and the classic title track by Frankie Valli, was the perfect way to kick off the evening – regardless if the rain was trying to stop the fun. This was a fantastic way to kick off the night, because as she sang, Jesse J toured all the sets, and even some backstage areas. “Freddy, My Love” broke the fourth wall in the coolest way, and Palmer crushed it vocally. “Born to Hand Jive” was flawless in both the moves and the tunes, and the finale, “Always Be Together” featured the kind of magic and spectacle that the number always deserves – and was even better without the random flying car!

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Even with the rain, some sound issues, and some slightly scary looking golf cart rides, Grease: Live! was by far the best live musical broadcast thus far. The creativity, teamwork, and love for this musical showed in every second of the telecast, and positions Fox as the masters of the live musical broadcast. NBC, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do!

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