Grease: Live! by Fox TV (TV Movie-Concert, 2016)
Musical | Comedy
Lead Cast: Juliann Hough (Sandy), Aaron Tveit (Danny), Vanessa Hudgens (Rizzo)
“After enjoying a summer romance, high school students Danny and Sandy are unexpectedly reunited when she transfers to Rydell High. There Sandy must contend with cynical Rizzo and the Pink Ladies in attempt to win Danny’s heart again.” -IMDB
pooled ink Review:
This trend of filming musicals live for a television audience has not yet stopped and I rather wish it would. Whether or not they are trying to bring the magic of the stage to an audience sitting at home on their couch or not it’s just a bit flat. Theatre contains a magic altogether different from that of movies or TV. Theatre cannot be filmed.
While with each show that I’ve watched (Sound of Music (awful), Peter Pan (not bad), and now Grease (silly) I’ve only been able to appreciate its magic from a technical standpoint. It is utterly amazing to see what the directors can come up with! The camera angles, the transitions, the lighting, the costumes, the music, etcetera. It’s all utterly amazing and ever so impressive. But when I push aside my tech-sided brain and just try to watch and enjoy the show as an actor, or better yet as an ordinary audience member, it all just feels disappointing, inadequate, and flat. It feels like it’s trying too hard.
For this I’m obviously focusing on Grease (don’t get me started on Sound of Music, it’s a memory I’d prefer to forget).
Congrats to Fox TV on landing so many celebrities to be in their production but while big names might bring many viewers, it is good names that will keep those viewers transfixed in their seat. So let’s take a look at these famous people shall we?
Jessie J killed the opening song, but she’s freaking talented so who wouldn’t have guessed that? It was a fun scene with her rocking it and moving the camera throughout backstage.
Julianne Hough played a darling Sandy and held her own with vocals, dancing, and acting.
Aaron Tveit, indeed a stage performer, did really well as Danny but his performance of “Greased Lightin’” left me a touch disappointing vocally. Sorry, Aaron.
Vanessa Hudgens played Rizzo and my opinion kept flip-flopping. First of all shout out to her because her father died the night before her performance so that must have been intense to handle. The phrase “the show must go on” is key to the theatre and Vanessa proved her strength with it as she did indeed go on as if everything were fine. Anyway, back to her performance. She had good moments where I felt she really connected with the classic Rizzo character but there were just as many moments where it seemed out of place, out of touch, and just an okay-quality imitation. However her solo “There are Worse Things I Could Do” was pretty good (although she has a bad habit of squeezing/squashing her ‘O’ vowels making them strained and nasally and it’s irritating as a classically trained singer).
Keke Palmer, who played Marty, was horrendous. Wow that’s a bit harsh but yeah I wasn’t a fan. Has she ever done any stage acting before?? Although, yes, this is technically for television I suppose. Regardless, her acting was overdone and her solo was a shame. She overdid Marty and simply couldn’t pull off “Grease” but instead shimmied about like a silly pop star. It killed my Broadway heart. Blehhh.
Carly Rae Jepsen actually impressed me by doing a pretty good Frenchy. That is until it came to her solo. Yep they wrote her a solo to lead into the song “Beauty School Drop Out” and it was terrible. I couldn’t hear her softer notes because she is so clearly not a stage performer and the song itself (whether it’s the writers’ fault or her fault or probably both) came across as a cheap pop song. So. Not. Grease.
Boyz II Men sang the song “Beauty School Drop Out” and I hated everything about the scene. I hated the arrangement, the execution, the sound, everything. Sorry but it just didn’t impress me. I actually am indeed open to the idea of changing it to be a trio but a) it’s supposed to be sung by her guardian angel (sort of) and that is singular because no way does she get three of them and b) it just didn’t sound great enough to convince me they pulled it off.
Carlos Pena Jr. played Kenickie and I suppose he did okay…but overall it wasn’t very good nor impressive. There were definitely moments (just like with Keke Palmer) where I wanted him to get out and go away and send in an understudy. Also he makes really weird sounds when he makes out with Rizzo in the back of his car. Just saying.
Mario Lopez played Vince Fontaine (you know, the announcer dude at the dance competition?) and he tried to come across as smooth, which is accurate because the character is a big celebrity, but Lopez tried to be so smooth he came across as sleazy and I felt gross.
Joe Jonas played Johnny Casino, the band singer at the high school’s dance competition, and he murdered some of my favorite songs in this show. His voice did not fit into the era at all but twisted these classic rock n roll tunes into bad pop imitations.
Lesser known people:
Ana Gasteyer played Principal McGee and she was perfect for the role.
Haneefah Wood played Blanche and she was terrible, although her character is a really goofy one so it’s not hard to suddenly find yourself falling off a cliff and ending up as ridiculous. But really, overacting much?
Elle McLemore played Patty Simcox and I wanted to punch her face every time she came on screen. Sorry but Patty is already an annoyingly peppy character, you don’t need to add more to it. She was WAY overacting and it was incredibly irritating to watch.
Kether Donohue played Jan and she was just as creepy as Jamie Donnelly who played her in the original movie so…good job? Definitely my least favorite character though.
Alrighty! Let’s move onto the plot.
The original movie, Grease, is actually kind of ridiculous but because of the story’s time period and because of when the movie was made it’s a type of ridiculous that is acceptable and tolerated and in some ways simply accepted as normal to its era. This production of Grease seemed like it wanted to emanate this movie’s perky, ridiculous, goofy, classic tale but instead ended up overdoing it and coming up with a poor imitation. On top of that the movie is actually sort of raunchy and this version watered it down. I get wanting to make things “family friendly” but the raunchiness is a part of the story and without it you water down the characters which is a shame.
I really enjoyed the ethnically diverse casting. Was it particularly accurate for the time when this story takes place? No, not at all. But for a modern presentation of the show I’m cool with it. Always nice to see more than just white people performing together.
Lots of parts were cut, altered, or rearranged and while maybe it made their lives easier it did absolutely nothing to enhance the show but rather ruined it a touch. Not horribly but it definitely didn’t do anything at all to make the show better, more linear, more justified, more…anything.
It seems to me that they tried to streamline the show. I felt as if it was stuck on fast-forward and they were just blowing through the story sacrificing any decent plot or character development in exchange for time. There was plenty of razzle dazzle and impressive technical feats but it hopped from song to song to song almost losing the plot entirely as it fell through the cracks between song performances. The characters also received little time to establish an arc of any discernible sort. The heart of the story was killed in exchange for spectacle and peppy music.
ALSO, in between song numbers/scenes/before commercial breaks Mario Lopez would take up his usual job as announcer/MC and he’d welcome you to the show, maybe share a couple fun facts, have some of the actors wave to the camera, take you backstage, etc. and I was not a fan. I hated it. It did nothing but further distance this monstrosity of a plot from its roots and true storyline. I also wasn’t a fan of the limited audience shown on screen either. Showing audience members and occasionally exposing the actuality of sets and stages just ruined all the magic (not that there was much to begin with). But I mean you go to such lengths to create an illusion of reality! Don’t swing the camera around and expose all of that work!
This wasn’t a musical theatre production. This wasn’t a movie. This wasn’t even a TV show. It was like some Grease tribute concert performed for the amusement of the theatrically uneducated. A flashy cliff-notes version of a classic film, a classic musical, and a classic coming-of-age story.
Positive note: The way they performed the Thunder Road/car racing scene was awesome and well done. Between the crafty camera angles and nifty lighting effects they actually managed to pull off staging an epic car race within a sound stage.
At the end of the show everyone sings the closing number “We Go Together” and honestly they all looked like they are having the time of their lives. They looked so genuinely happy, excited, and as if they were having so much fun that it made my heart smile for them. But all in all I’d compare it to a parent going to watch their child in an average high school production. You are so happy for them and proud of their hard work but you’d never pay to see it again. Ever.
Grease: Live! A fun but disjointed show. I’ve seen it and now I’m moving on. Go watch the movie and never see a high school watered down production of it. Theatre simply cannot be filmed.