The first thing you should know before watching this show, is not to compare it to the original film. Grease is timeless, it’s a classic, and it’s untouchable. Granted, not comparing is easier said than done. I adore the film, it is hands down one of my favorite movies of all time. I can watch it over and over again and sing along in enjoyment. Anytime I catch it on TV I watch it. So as I sat watching Grease: Live, I found myself comparing every moment, every movement, every line to the original, which can completely daunt the magic of the live show.
Now don’t get me wrong some parts were better than others, and I definitely cringed during a few moments because of the dialogue changes, but overall I enjoyed the show very much. It gave me such an incredible respect for shows that shoot with a live audience. And my love for the Grease storyline was ignited once again. Can I please please dress up like Sandy at least once in my life? #goals
Now let’s get into specifics…I’m going to try and categorize my thoughts, and keep things to the point. So that we all aren’t here forever. 😉
Performance High Lights:
“Hopelessly Devoted”- Julianne Hough
“Summer Nights”- Aaron Tveit & Julianne Hough
“There are worse things I could do”- Vanessa Hudgens
“You’re the one that I want”- Julianne Hough & Aaron Tveit
“We’ll Always Be Together”- The whole Rydell gang
Julianne Hough [Dancing with the Stars] really shines as Sandy, as she channels that good girl nature, while just trying to find a way to fit in. Her shy innocence is played naturally, as she delivers her performance with a sweetness and a tenderness. But she easily switches tone and spices things up when she becomes bad sandy. And her dancing skills showed right on through too. Oh and girl can sing too???!!!
Aaron Tveit [Glee] was very charming as Danny. He got the swagger down pact, working the strut and the smirk full force. His delivery of flirtation was cleverly made his own. And let’s just say he’s kind of adorable.
Vanessa Hudgens [High School Musical] was a complete star. Considering the recent loss of her father who passed just hours before the live show, she didn’t let anything derail her determination, as she conquered the role of Betty Rizzo. Her sassy nature and spunk was on point throughout the night, as she delivered her lines with conviction and flirtation. We commend you Ms. Hudgens, you love, are a true class act and a complete professional. Can you say powerhouse? I couldn’t imagine being able to even think about doing such a thing while dealing with so much emotional grief. The live show was dedicated in her late father- Greg Hudgen’s honor.
Carlos Pena-Vega [Big Time Rush] was a really spot on Kenickie. I was loving how he delivered his lines with the same arrogant yet goofy flare the original Kenickie played by Jeff Conaway did. I have to say he really surprised me in a great way. Hats off.
Carly Rae Jepsen [Singer] had to be my favorite. Now I’ll be honest, I love “Call Me Maybe” just as much as the next girl, but when I heard Jepsen had been cast in the role of Frenchy, I was a bit unconvinced. But she killed it. Not only does she look flawless decked out in [literally] head to toe pink, but Frenchy has this light spirit about her, she’s kind and more accepting then the other pink ladies. And I think Jepsen was exceptional in her delivery. Plus that moment where she shared a scene with Didi Conn (the original Frenchy) who came back to play the role of Vi (waitress at the Frosty Palace ice cream parlour) just gave me all the feels. Frenchy’s boy “Doody” was played by Jordan Fisher, and the original Doody played by Barry Pearl was on set as well, as he played Vince Fontaine’s agent. Both beautiful ways to pay homage to an incredible film. In fact Didi gave a few token Grease mementos to Carly for the live show, check out Carly’s instagram collage.
Kether Donohue [The Carrie Diaries] wasn’t someone I recognized. But I think she was a breath of fresh air. Casting her as Jan was a great move. From her pigtails all the way to her squeaky voice, made me think fondly of her delivery. She also serves as a quiet humor in the drama that ensues between the other major couples in the story.
Ok, this is the real deal talk here. I am mean how can I review a live show, without talking about the production side of it, right? Let me start by saying that when I watch live television I am often nervous for whoever is in that control room. From my studies in college, I know first-hand that operating a live show it is no joke. Anything can happen, anything can go wrong, and the world will see it. Well I mean maybe the world didn’t see when we’d mess up in my film production class, but still I was always so stressed. So I can only imagine the pressure felt on a much greater scale. Needless to say, I have been trained to view film and television with a critical eye. So granted I had my moments of “WHAT ARE YOU DOING!” But for the bulk of the show, I was incredibly in awe of how seamless the camera work was. Grease Live was directed by a fellow Dancing with the Stars director Alex Rudzinski and Thomas Kail who is a high in demand Broadway director known for his work with Hamilton.
Let’s just talk about that intro where the incredibly talented Jessie J. strutted throughout the set as she performed Grease (is the word). It was, I think a homage to the actual beginning of the film, where you hear the song as you see the caricatures pop up one by one, all in different locations, doing different things as the introductory credits show. As Jessie J walked throughout the set, we got to see bits and pieces of the set and all the characters coming to life for the first time. And the camera work was on point the entire time, following her every move in a kind of hand held, first person view vibe. Whatever kind of rig they used was full proof. I have to look into how they filmed that, because it was epic.
Also the black and white inserts were FANTASTIC, I was so excited to see that. In the film, as American Bandstand comes to host a dance off at Rydell high school, you see Vi and the gang watching live from the Frosty Palace and the TV shots are obviously in black and white. The inclusion of this during the dance off scene was a nice homage to the original film.
Set design for Grease Live was done by Jason Howard (Dancing with the Stars.) For the most part the live show was set on a sound stage. There were a few scenes staged outside, but the outdoor scenes were minimal. Most scenes were set in the Rydell High school set, in the hallways near the lockers and in the school gymnasium. However, I imagine that the production kept to sound stage, because being that the show was live, there needed to be limited transporting of actors. Scenes were transitioned quickly. Points for the behind the scenes clips during the commercials, where we saw the actors running in between scenes to golf carts to drive them to their next scene. Super cool to see.
The race at thunder road was kind of wonky too, considering there couldn’t really be a car race, there was just a lot of tire spinning and smoke. But I get that you do what you have the means to and the allotted time for.
I did however miss the abundance of the carnival scene. The closing number of “You’re the one that I want” was performed on set and although the set was transformed into a carnival like atmosphere, it didn’t give off quite the grandiose appeal as the film. And the choreography wasn’t able to shine as much without the Shake Shack, and the Rizzo/Kenickie “I’m not pregnant” moment wasn’t the same without the Ferris Wheel. I was happy to see the closing number of “We Go Together” be performed outside, where the whole set was transformed into a carnival; Ferris Wheel and all. And I couldn’t understand why the whole segment wasn’t set there in the first place. But regardless the ending made up for it. The sheer excitement on the actors faces as they sang and took their bows, dancing and singing their hearts out, was enough to see that this was a passion project that meant the world to them. Julianne Hough’s expression was EVERYTHING!
There were a few minor glitches that were noticeable, or at least to me. During the first scene after the opening number, where the gang is standing in front of Rydell High, we see a significant change in lighting. But it was corrected for the better.
During the sleepover scene, where Keke Palmer wowed as Marty singing “Freddy my love,” upon her quick change, it was as if you heard a mic scuff. I didn’t know what the noise was at first but then realized it was probably that. Super small, but bound to happen during a live show.
And lastly, during the big school dance scene there was a point where the sound just completely went out, and it felt like forever. It was a mere few seconds, but I could just imagine the sheer panic going on in the control room. I think the sound was slightly off for a few moments after that, during the Johnny Casino performance there was a weird cut, where it seemed like Joe Jonas’ song was just skipped over, and then throughout Sandy’s “Hopelessly Devoted” performance you can hear some annoying feedback, even so Julianne Hough’s vocals nailed it!
P.S. Who else noticed the Blanche character earring go flying off because girl could not stop wobbling, it was kind of irritating and overdone if you ask me. Haha. The Patty Simcox character was kind of a little too peppy for me, she was also kind of stiff and robotic, but I do think the similarities were there.
I’m just nitpicking here though, aside from that one major audio drop, everything went pretty smoothly. And I thought it all came together rather beautifully. I enjoyed it.
Choreography for Grease Live was done by Zach Woodlee (Glee). Although all big numbers were included, it seemed as though there were some adjustments made to the routines. Specifically in the hand jive sequence. I noticed it wasn’t the traditional moves. I took that as either a new spin to make the live show unique or that it could have possibly had something to do with copyright issues. Because I know that on Dancing with the Stars when they do movie week, they aren’t always allowed to use all the original choreography. Either way the show still went on.
Costume design for Grease Live was done by William Ivey Long (The Cutting Edge, The Producers, A slew of Broadway productions.) The dresses, the pink ladies and t-birds fashion, the Rydell high school gym clothes and cheer uniforms were on all point. The true 50’s inspiration was alive.
The script for Grease Live was constructed by Jim Jacobs (original musical) and Warren Casey (musical). Jacobs also worked with many projects including Glee and Dancing with the Stars. While Casey, worked with projects such as, Glee, Dancing with the stars, and SNL.
During last night’s live performance you may have seen some new developments in our beloved love story.
Different cultures and races were channeled into the main rolls. The T-birds were of an ethnic dynamic. With Pena-Vega using his Latin flare to deliver his lines as Kenickie. While Keke Palmer’s bold vocals lent Marty a new heir of confidence and sass. Along with Palmer, a few other African American actors were placed in the roles for Blanche and for Coach Calhoun. Not to mention Boyz II Men made a cameo as they sang “Beauty School Drop Out.” I have to say, I was kind of vibing! I love me some Boyz II Men.
-Script Adjustments to fit 2016
Aside from a few lyrical tweaks to PG -afye-things, and line tweaks, it was noticeable that the Grease Live script was set to be a bit more family friendly, I guess you could say. Don’t get me wrong the raunchy sex talk is still very much intact, and Rizzo and Kenickie bust out a few doozies. But the idea that they shied away from violence (instead of punching his wrestling opponent Danny just pulls down his pants revealing a pair of pink gym shorts), fat shaming (instead of focusing on Jan’s weight, they focus on her uniqueness) and bullying (Although Eugene is messed with throughout the show, Danny always gives him an out. Eugene helps the T-birds win the race at thunder road and Danny gives him his T-bird jacket to induct him into the group) was a nice change of pace now that I reflect. And although the vulgar dance moves were still a thing during the school dance off, and Sonny still spiked the bunch- he and the guys didn’t moon the camera. Shucks, I love the irony of Blue Moon playing as you see the three fellas moon the camera.
“Freddy My Love” * (Written for the Original Broadway Musical but dropped for the film)
“All I Need is an Angel” * (New Original song for Grease Live)
On a scale of 1 to Grease the original, I give it a 6 (a little more than half,) because well let’s be real you can’t monkey with the original. BUT I take into account that this is a MUSICAL version and NOT a full FEATURE FILM. BUT did I enjoy the hell of it…YES. Would I watch it again…YES. Would I recommend you watch if you missed it…HELL YES. And now I’m going to go continue to listen to the original soundtrack because I’m a pile of Grease feels, now.
Thanks for reading my in-depth Grease: Live Review.
What’d you think of the show, let’s chat in the comments below? (Hey that rhymed!)
*I do not take credit for any images or video clips used.*