You’re the One that I Want: A Review of Grease: Live

By: Chaviva Freedman  |  February 10, 2016

grease live

You’ve seen the movie numerous times. You know the lyrics. You attempted to perform the dances. And let’s be honest—you always wanted to be either a T-Bird or Pink Lady. The world had the chance to relive their childhood when the recent production of Grease: Live premiered on Fox Network.

When Fox Network released the news in January 2015 that they were jumping into the world of live musical events with the show Grease, many people were into the idea. NBC previously ruled live showsM and it looked like Fox was finally competing and giving NBC a run for its money. With an executive producer known for producing the Broadway show Wicked (Marc Platt), a choreographer known for his work on the television show Glee (Zach Woodlee) and a director and set designer most recently known for their respective work on the hit Broadway production Hamilton (Tommy Kail and David Korins), it looked like Fox was pulling out all the stops in order to make the show the best production that it could.

To separate itself from NBC live musicals, Fox decided to mix in new elements that would make Grease stand out. The first thing the network did was cast a mix of television (Julianne Hough), film (Vanessa Hudgens) and Broadway stars (Aaron Tveit) to play the signature roles Sandy, Rizzo and Danny. The network also brought in acting greats and modern singers to play the adults, such as Eve Plumb from The Brady Bunch, Ana Gasteyer from Saturday Night Live, popular 90’s R&B group Boyz II Men as Teen Angel, Mario Lopez as television host Vince Fontaine and popular band DNCE as Johnny Casino and the Gamblers.

The most impressive part was that the network secured two original cast members (Barry Pearl and Didi Conn, respectively) to play the television producer and the waitress in the diner, which excited many fans. Another major new element was that the production would span three soundstages and part of the outside of Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank, California. In order to make the scene changes seamless, the actors had to be driven via golf carts between the soundstages with extremely quick costume changes to make sure that they would make their marks.

The most innovative thing that Fox Network did was incorporate a live audience throughout the show. The audience would have a chance to interact with the cast, giving the show a live, Broadway vibe. This changed the whole feel of the live televised musical event, because even though NBC did live musical events before Fox, it had never incorporated a live audience. This gave people a chance to see their favorite stars perform in a way that hadn’t been done before.

When the actual production occurred on January 31st, no one could deny the work that was put into the sets. They looked so realistic, it really felt like you were in the scene with the actors, whether it was in the hallway of Rydell High School, the auto-body shop or in the Frosty Palace with the T-Birds and the Pink Ladies. Viewers were so impressed with it that they kept commenting on the intricate details of the sets over social media.

The cast, on the other hand, came with mixed reviews. Playing the naive, doe-eyed Sandy, actress and Dancing with the Stars judge Julianne Hough made everyone feel good when things were going right for her and bad when things didn’t go her way. Her rendition of “Hopelessly Devoted to You” was perfect, with a sense of heartbreak while still sounding angelic. The amazing part was to see her transformation from sweet Sandy to the spicy and provocative Sandy over the course of the three-hour broadcast. She not only resembled Olivia Newton-John, but gave the character new life.

Also, the dancing was on point, as is to be expected with Hough being a professional dancer. As the leader of the T-Birds, Broadway star Aaron Tveit attempted to re-invent what we know about Danny Zuko. Although he looked the part with a James Dean vibe, he came across as trying to copy John Travolta rather than make the role his own. That’s not to say that he wasn’t good—his dancing during “Greased Lightnin’” proved that he is a great dancer, while his rendition of “Sandy” made the character seem somewhat vulnerable. Nevertheless, some people didn’t believe the chemistry between Hough and Tveit, while others felt that they perfectly represented the Sandy and Danny that we saw with Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta in the 1978 film.

The most impressive performance of the production was actress Vanessa Hudgens as the leader of the Pink Ladies, Betty Rizzo. While coping with a personal tragedy—her father passed away from Stage IV cancer mere hours before the show—Hudgens still amazed the audience and the viewers with the performance that she gave. She managed to make Rizzo mean and catty while still being vulnerable. Her rendition of “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” showed her strength and will to continue with the show even through her grief. It made for an inspiring performance, something that people definitely appreciated throughout the broadcast.

As a live musical event, Grease: Live met the public’s expectations for the first production from Fox Network. The majority of the audience enjoyed the singing and the dancing, even if they felt the chemistry between the two lead characters was not on par with Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta. Even though I still prefer the film, Fox succeeded and should continue to put on live musical broadcasts with the same passion and fervor as this production.