February 05, 2016 by Elisa Money
“Grease: Live!” aired on Fox Jan. 31. “Grease,” a musical written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey that premiered in 1971, is set in the year 1959 at Rydell High School, a fictitious institution filled with greasers, cheerleaders and everyone in between. The show follows two groups of teenagers, the T-Birds and the Pink Ladies, as they deal with the trials and tribulations of ‘50s high school life. The lead characters, Sandy Olson and Danny Zuko, had a summer fling and expected to never see each other again. Little did they know, Sandy would transfer to Danny’s high school for their senior year. The musical touches on issues like teen pregnancy, peer pressure and gang violence with themes including love, friendship, rebellion and sexual exploration. The show was nominated for seven different Tony Awards in 1972, including Best Musical, but did not take home the trophy in any of the categories.
“Grease: Live!” was exceptionally star studded with Aaron Tveit (“Les Miserables”) and Julianne Hough (“Footloose”) starring as Danny and Sandy, respectively. In supporting roles were Vanessa Hudgens ( “High School Musical”) as Rizzo, Keke Palmer (“Akeelah and the Bee”) as Marty, and Carly Rae Jepsen as Frenchy. Not to mention the other celebrities cast as minor characters such as Mario Lopez as Vince Fontaine, Carlos PenaVega as Kenickie, and Wendell Pierce as Coach Calhoun. Some actors from the original movie made an appearance in the show as well, including Didi Conn — originally Frenchy — who took on the character of Viv and Barry Pearl — originally Doody — now Mr. Weaver. The live event also featured musical groups Jessie J, DNCE and Boyz II Men in various songs.
While the network experienced a few technical glitches where the sound cut out briefly, the show was an exceptional success. Tveit and Hough shined as the leading pair and had amazing chemistry throughout the show, while the Pink Ladies and T-Birds did a superb job of supporting the couple while also shining in their own moments. The choreography, by Zach Woodlee, was phenomenal with a perfect balance of classic sixties dance moves, swing, and modern styles. The singing throughout the event showcased the various voices of the extremely talented cast, with Jepsen’s song as Frenchy, “All I Need Is an Angel,” being the only weak number of the whole night.
Directorial highlights from the production include all the quick changes which took place in a matter of seconds when the camera would either shift slightly away for a brief moment to a different focus or would zoom into the face of whoever was undergoing the costume change. Director Thomas Kail also made some amazing decisions in terms of set changes and changes for the car itself. All these instances left the audience in awe due to the reimagining of the traditional onstage quick change.
Also worth noting is the brilliance behind the final number of the show, “We Go Together.” For this number, the entire company ran out of the building that housed the school gymnasium set, jumped onto the large golf carts they had been racing around in throughout the entire production to get from set to set, and drove with cameras following them the entire way while still singing and dancing to the final set of a carnival fair. The entire idea was so ingenious and wonderful to watch, even though one of the golf carts nearly tipped over as it went up a curb.
On a different note, hours before the show was meant to take place, Vanessa Hudgens lost her father, Greg Hudgens to cancer. Hudgens dedicated her performance to him and played an indescribable Rizzo, with an exceptionally touching rendition of “There Are Worse Things I Could Do.” It is safe to say that Hudgens has come a long way from her role as Gabriella in “High School Musical” and will continue to progress as a Broadway leading lady. Missed the original airing? The “Grease: Live!” soundtrack was made available for purchase and download Feb. 1, and Fox is streaming the entire show on Fox.com.