“Grease: Live” is the best in a recent series of live network broadcasts of musicals.
This is coming from a guy who hated the film version of “Grease” with John Travolta. But “Grease: Live” takes the best resources of network television, gives them to talented people and lets them run wild with it.
“Grease: Live” begins with an astonishing opening shot of Jessie J singing “Grease,” which was sung in the 1978 film version. The camera tracks J through several different sets, shows all of the cast members and special guests, and even goes outside. In its scope and intricate level of detail, it feels like one of the shots from “Birdman” on steroids.
The fact that all of this is done live makes it even more of a great achievement. By the end of the song, I could feel the energy and enthusiasm of the cast. There was no better way the show’s directors, theater veteran Tommy Kail and television veteran Alex Rudzinski, could have started this show.
“Grease: Live” takes place in 1959 at Rydell High. It’s a wholesome place, but no 1950s high school would be complete without teen gangs. Rydell High’s home to the all-male “T-Birds” and the all-female “Pink Ladies.”
The main story concerns the romance between T-Bird leader Danny Zuko and his summer girlfriend Sandy, but almost every character has a storyline or a journey.
Even Eugene, a very minor character in other versions of this show, proves invaluable to the T-Birds’ victory over a rival gang.
The cast is excellent. Aaron Tveit and Julianne Hough are endearing as Zuko and Sandy.
Vanessa Hudgens, who lost her father hours before the broadcast, is phenomenal as Rizzo. It’s incredible she could muster the strength to be so funny and expertly belt out all of her songs in light of her loss.
Carly Rae Jepsen is pretty funny as Frenchy. Boys II Men are great in the song “Beauty School Dropout,” but Joe Jonas doesn’t get much out of his cameo.
There was a moment during the broadcast where the audio cut out. It was a mistake, but also a reminder of the tension that makes live television so thrilling.
There are parts of the musical that seem dated. It’s weird to hear Sandy describe Zuko’s car as a “sin wagon” after he makes a move on her. The ending to her story, where Sandy changes her personality for Zuko, is still unfair.
“Grease: Live” was not something I was expecting to enjoy. But the cast and crew won me over with their energy and talent. It sets the bar very high for any future live television production.