Ever since “The Sound of Music Live!” premiered on Dec. 5, 2013, live television versions of famous Broadway musicals have become a rather popular fad, with NBC airing “Peter Pan Live!” on Dec. 4, 2014 and “The Wiz Live!” on Dec. 3, 2015.
Now Fox is jumping on the bandwagon with their magnificent production of “Grease Live!” Only this television special, which was originally broadcast from Warner Bros. Studios in front of a live audience on Jan. 31, is bigger and better than any of its predecessors and blows Fox’s rival network NBC right out of the water.
Directed by Thomas Kail and based in part on the 1971 Broadway musical and the 1978 movie starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, “Grease Live!” reimagines the story of 1950’s era Rydell High and presents a show that is, well — electrifying!
Danny Zuko and Sandy Young are played by veteran performers Aaron Tveit (“Gossip Girl”) and Julianne Hough (“Footloose”). The rest of the star-studded players making up the Pink Ladies and T-Birds include Vanessa Hudgens (“High School Musical”) as Rizzo, Carly Rae Jepson (a pop star known for her hit single “Call Me Maybe”) as Frenchy, Keke Palmer (“Scream Queens”) as Marty, Kether Donohue (“Pitch Perfect”) as Jan, Carlos Pena Jr. (“Big Time Rush”) as Kenickie, Jordan Fisher (“Teen Beach Movie”) as Doody, David Del Rio as Putzie and Andrew Call as Sonny.
Special cameo appearances were also made, to the delight of thousands of fans, by Didi Conn (who played Frenchy in the movie “Grease”) as the waitress in the diner and Barry Pearl (who played Doody in the film) as Mr. Weaver.
Mario Lopez, furthermore, portrayed Vince Fontaine in addition to hosting the television special from backstage. Pop singer Jessie J was even included, singing the opening theme — “Grease is the Word” — while introducing actors and the setting at the beginning of the show.
The entire cast’s in-the-moment chemistry was astounding, as was their singing and dancing (keep in mind that this was all performed live with no take-backs). The stakes are much higher in a live television performance than those of a feature film, and that is what makes this show so exciting.
Critics and viewers have been comparing “Grease Live!” to the 1978 movie, with the former coming off worse, but the thing to remember is the two are completely separate beings. “Grease Live!” is not a Hollywood movie but essentially a wonderfully-crafted, high-budget play. And for a play, the sets, camerawork and special effects were highly impressive.
Most impressive of all, though, are the musical numbers. “Grease Live!” performers were able to bring more emotional depth and enthusiasm to some featured songs than seemingly possible. Most notable were renditions of “Summer Nights,” “Freddy, My Love,” “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” and “We Go Together.”
There were a few technical and weather-related issues along the way, but overall, Fox proved that even over four decades since its original conception, “Grease” is still the “word.”
“Grease Live!” will be available on DVD beginning March 8.