Halftime Leisure

“Grease Live!”: Burning Up the Quarter Mile

February 3, 2016


“Grease” is a fantastic, beloved musical, with an abundance of upbeat show tunes and a plot that adolescents can relate to. Following in the footsteps of NBC’s “The Sound of Music Live” “Peter Pan Live,” and most recently “The Wiz Live,” Fox decided to cast their own live-on-television musical with “Grease Live!”, starring Aaron Tveit (seen in Les Miserables and Gossip Girl) as Danny, and Julianne Hough as Sandy Young (no longer Olson).

The special commenced with Jessie J replacing Frankie Valli to sing the titular “Grease is The Word”, with a sultry dance number that showed her confidence and allure as she sang along with the performers, including the Pink Ladies and the T-Birds, J brought a bubbly personality to the live audience that rivaled the original Broadway production. From its first moments, “Grease Live!” set the bar quite high.

The play then opened on the first day of Rydell High where the audience meets the new girl, Sandy Young from Utah. She falls in with Frenchy (Carly Rae Jepson), Marty (Keke Palmer), Jan, and the leader of the Pink Ladies Betty Rizzo (Vanessa Hudgens), as well as  Danny and the Thunderbirds, Kenickie (Carlos PenaVega), Putzie, Doody, and Sonny. Through a tumultuous story, rife with dancing, betrayal, and perhaps pregnancy, Danny and Sandy fall in love. The story is a classic good girl-gone-bad, but has been given a new spin.

The performance itself was impressive, led by Hough’s enthusiastic dancing and singing. The lovebirds harmonized on the end of “Summer Nights”, a difficult work to master, especially live, setting the show up for success. Hudgens’ “Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee” was also funny and perfectly exaggerated, staying true to the traditional performance of the song. Finally, “You’re the One that I Want” surprised viewers with amazing acrobatics. While nobody can replace Travolta and Newton-John, the modern version is still excellent.

Mario Lopez’s Vince Fontaine was funny, albeit creepy, as he flirted with Palmer’s Marty, while fellow 90’s heartthrobs Boyz II Men also made an appearance as the Teen Angels. In addition, DNCE, led by Joe Jonas, were a memorable surprise as the Gamblers. Perhaps the most notable cameo was Didi Conn, the original Frenchy in the 1978 movie and the notorious 1982 “Grease 2”, as Vi, the owner of the diner. It was perfectly nostalgic to see an original cast member perform again 38 years later.

While the show bore a tragedy as Vanessa Hudgens’ father passed away from stage IV cancer the day before the performance, Hudgens still put on an amazing show in his memory, solidifying her position as a theatrical great, having recently finished her tour with the production of Gigi this past summer. Though she could have easily dropped the show, or had someone else fill in, her dedication reflected true professionalism and her performance was memorable.

One of the best parts was the camera work. Obviously, live theater is limited to the visual perspective of the viewer in the audience, but in the television special, the cameras were able to act like in a film, with shots at all different angles. These tactics ensured that one could capture the emotions of live theater whilst gaining a three-dimensional perspective. The camera magic really shone when Keke Palmer changed clothing for “Freddy my Love”, during which she quickly changed into a red show-stopping dress almost magically. The camera holding a tight shot throughout the song, only added to the surprise of her beauty when the shot finally panned out.

“Grease Live” was a great example of how live theater can be a popular spectacle, and it should be able to be viewed by everyone. The show brought a new perspective to theatre and television, and the addition of a live studio audience helped to keep the energy going. I urge viewers to be like my friends and I and keep rocking out to these timeless songs. I promise you’ll discover a newfound love for the hand jive.  

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