Right off the bat, there
is some information that needs to be imparted about the video release of
FOX-TV's version of Grease Live! Grease Live! is not a
televised performance of the smash 1973 Broadway musical. Instead, it is a
live performance of the 1978 movie Grease, which was in many ways
very, very different from the play.
musical styles, additional songs written specifically for the movie – all of
these are here and accounted for from the film. Sure, Grease Live!
shakes things up occasionally – there are some added band performances to
shoehorn in current bands like DNCE (featuring Joe Jonas) and "Hopelessly
Devoted To You" is moved deeper into the story (which was easy enough to do,
because this was one of the songs written for the movie). Also, the cast is
often allowed to riff and extend the dialogue from the original script,
which at least partially explains how the performance goes almost two and a
The songs are also
performed in the style of film, not the play. Listen to the original cast
recording of "Summer Nights" with Barry Bostwick, Adrienne Barbeau et al,
and you'll see how radically the movie changed up tempos and added to the
All of this is somewhat
understandable. Let's face it, most people know Grease from the 1978
movie, not the original 1973 play. Also, since the musical has returned to
the boards in 1992 in London, most of the revivals in the last couple of
decades did factor in at least some of the changes from the story and added
the hit singles from the movie to the original score.
If they did the original
play, people would be scratching their heads, saying "Where is 'You're the
One That I Want,' 'Grease,' 'Sandy' and 'Hopelessly Devoted to You?'"
They'd be asking how the story went from Los Angeles to the inner city.
When did the T-Birds become the Burger City Boys? Why is Danny taking Rizzo
to the dance? What are these songs "Alone at the Drive-In Movie" and "All
Choked Up?" What happened to the race and the carnival?
So why not do an
essentially verbatim live performance of the movie? And, trust me, I've
seen the movie dozens of times over the years and the dialogue here is
nearly word for word.
Which brings up the most
basic concern – what does Grease Live! bring to the party that the
original movie, which is still widely watched, didn't already offer?
On the plus side, the
cast is somewhat more age-appropriate to the roles than the famously elderly
high school students of the film. (The actors playing the Pink Ladies and
the T-Birds ranged from their late 20s to the 35 year-old Stockard Channing
as Rizzo.) Granted, the pop stars, theater vets and dancers playing the
roles here are mostly too old to be in high school, too, but at least these
kids are mostly in their early-mid 20s.
This problem is biggest
up top. The leads are played by dancer Julianne Hough (Dancing With the
Stars, the remake of Footloose and the film version of Rock of
Ages) and Aaron Tveit (The Les Misérables film, Graceland).
Sadly, the two leads – particularly Hough as Sandy – are perfectly fine as
singers and dancers but rather bland actors. (When you have been seriously
out-acted in a role by Olivia Newton-John, perhaps you should reconsider
your career choice.) Tveit does a bit better, but seems to periodically
slip in and out of a John Travolta imitation.
The stunt casting, which
gives roles to pop stars and kids' TV vets like Vanessa Hudgens (High
School Musical), Carlos PenaVega (Big Time Rush), Carly Rae
Jespen ("Call Me Maybe"), Keke Palmer (True Jackson), Jordan Fisher (Liv
& Maddie), Jessie J ("Bang Bang") and Joe Jonas (The Jonas Brothers) –
all of whom are just fine but few of whom stand out. It would be nice to
have some more legitimate actors here. For example, Kether Donohue (of the
FX sitcom You're the Worst) easily steals pretty much every scene
she's in as Jan, the youngest and nerdiest of the Pink Ladies.
There is also a savvy
group of veteran actors and singers who pick up the slack, including Ana
Gasteyer (Saturday Night Live), Wendell Pierce (The Wire), Eve
Plumb (The Brady Bunch), Mario Lopez (Extra), soul group Boyz
II Men and even Grease movie vets Didi Conn (Frenchie) and Barry
Pearl (Doodie). It's particularly fun when Conn plays a scene up against
her old character.
However, even if the
acting doesn't always quite hold up (and frankly, when was Grease
ever thought as a thespian's project), Grease Live! does have an
energy and joie de vivre that is undeniable. The dancing is lively
and the music is also pretty damned perfect, even if the new Carly Rae
Jepsen song "All I Need Is an Angel" doesn't quite live up to the rest of
the songs here. A better example of a current song being updated for this
show is Joe Jonas and DNCE's surprisingly nifty fifties revamp of their
current pop hit "Cake On the Ocean," which was recorded for the soundtrack
of the show, but did not make the cut for the broadcast.
originally run on network TV, some of the songs have to be given alternate
"safe for broadcast" lyrics. Not surprisingly, "Grease Lightning" is nearly
unrecognizable ("You know without a doubt, I'll be really making out in
Greased Lightning," indeed...), but even relatively harmless little bit like
"Hey fongool," a mangled Italian curse in "Look At Me I'm Sandra Dee" gets
Fact of the matter is, if
you want to see the movie Grease, it is easily available. It was a
huge hit and has not been off the video market for any extended period of
time since the first coming out on VHS in the early 1980s, and it certainly
gets re-run on TV often enough. However, Grease Live! is an
energetic and fun new-millennial tribute to a pop culture classic.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2016 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 6,