Sunday, January 31, 2016

Grease: Live (2016) - 7 stars out of 10

Grease: Live (2016) - 7 stars out of 10

"Grease: Live" is the latest in a line of live TV musical specials.  I love the attention that Broadway musicals have been receiving but I also feel like this production was less successful than NBC's recent production of "The Wiz: Live."  Rather than using a single stage with changing set pieces and drops, this production design involved two soundstages and an outdoor area that covered a massive 20-acre area.  Inevitably, the production feels more like a tv broadcast than watching a Broadway show onstage.  Where “The Wiz: Live” could be transported directly to a Broadway stage, it would be an impossibility for this production.  It works well, but it was very different from the other tv recreations of Broadway shows.  “Grease: Live” immediately embraces this tv-special vibe through its clever intro that displays the complexity of filming between multiple sound stages.  One major downfall is that the complexity of cameras moving from set to set resulted in a lot of lines being dropped.  Another interesting feature of this special was the live audience.  In concept, I liked the idea of including a live audience as part of the scenery and to recreate the energy of live theater.  In execution, their cheering at inappropriate times was kind of annoying and I don't think that it worked out exactly as Fox had anticipated.  Hopefully someone will reuse this idea in a more controlled way.  This production struck a positive balance between the original stage show and the 1978 movie adaptation.  It was nice to hear Freddy My Love and Those Magic Changes, and still found a way to work Hopelessly Devoted to You into the story.  They also did a good job of cleaning up the dialogue to make it mostly family appropriate while keeping the edge that allows the story to make sense.  The sexual content could have been toned down through implied actions but it still fit in to the TV-14 rating.  One of my biggest concerns was the casting of the leads since the 1978 movie was so iconic.  John Travolta defined the role of Danny Zuko and anybody else seems out of place in the role.  Aaron Tveit delivers a stunning vocal performance with effortless high notes, but he seemingly makes mistakes because his falsetto isn’t as nasal as Travolta or because he didn’t deliver the “Sandy, don’t make me laugh” line the way that we’re used to.  I had a tough time accepting him as Danny but I’m glad that he didn’t just mimic the character the way that we’d expect.  The same goes for Vanessa Hudgens as Rizzo.  I was pretty let down for the majority of the production, only because I was so used to Stockard Channing.  But then she sang There Are Worse a Things I Could Do.  Then I connected with her and was so thankful that she landed this role.  It is also important to note that her father died the morning of this production but she still performed in his honor.  He would have been proud.  One of the biggest disappointments was Carlos PenaVega in a completely unmemorable performance as Kenickie.  For being one of the most integral characters in the story, he sure didn’t have much presence.  Julianne Hough was a different story.  She was absolutely perfect as Sandy and completely stole the show.  She rivals Oliva Newton-John in the perfect innocent appearance for Sandy and the emotional delivery of her songs.  She is already a star but this has definitely opened the backstage Broadway door for her.  The casting of Didi Conn (the original Frenchy) as Vi was inspired as she interacts with her “younger self.”  Mario Lopez was a no-brainer for Vince Fontaine and I was digging the use of Boyz II Men as an adaptation of the Teen Angel role.  They were probably the best inclusion of star power in the special.  Some of the onscreen transformations (Marty's costume change, the car in Grease Lightning) were like something out of a tv magic act where the live audience can see how the trick worked but the tv audience is amazed.  The inclusion of a live audience does not mean that it was intended to be seen by a live audience.  The car race looked pretty realistic.  I was wondering how they'd pull that off and they did a great job of tricking the eyes.  The unexpected finale was fantastic, once again breaking the fourth wall but turning into an all-out party.  This special preserves the 1950's counterculture and catchy songs of the original musical, but one thing that must be noted when discussing “Grease” is the moral of the story: Changing who you are is better than being yourself and sticking by it.  I love the music and the characters from this show, but I hope that the conclusion of the film opens the door for parents have a discussion with their impressionable daughters about why they should never compromise their morals for a boy.  “Grease: Live” had a lot of high points and low points but in the end, it was a success it is exciting to see Fox jumping onboard and hopefully this will lead to twice as many live musical productions in the future.

[Pictured: Of the many great performances in this production, Hough and Hudgens were the greatest]

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