I recently watched the Fox production “Grease Live,” which aired on Jan. 31. As a fan of the original movie-musical, I was definitely disappointed.
“Grease” has such a long established history. It’s a film so well-known and widely enjoyed that an attempt to reinvent it was unlikely to improve it. I can’t blame “Grease Live” for being unable to fix something that wasn’t broken. Maybe the show wouldn’t have been as much of a letdown if the commercials hadn’t hyped it up so much and set such high expectations.
“Grease Live” did have the same characters, plot and setting, but it wasn’t really “Grease” at the core. I couldn’t get sucked into the story like I was with the original, despite not having seen the film in years.
Maybe from the perspective of the live audience the show was more entertaining and engaging, but in my eyes the cast did not mesh well. They all seemed too invested in their own roles, failing to play off of one another.
For me, the appeal of live-action production is usually the unfamiliarity of the faces. It’s easier to immerse myself when I don’t have any preconceptions of an actor’s previous roles or offstage personality. Rather than truly reinvent the story for the stage, the show seemed like an inauthentic hodgepodge of re-enacted and experimental scenes.
The supporting cast tended to overact, which was annoying. They often had the exaggerated personalities of Disney Channel characters. Some of the main cast, like Vanessa Hudgens who played Rizzo, actually were formerly actors for Disney. Others, like Carlos Pena who played Kenicke and Keke Palmer who played Marty, were former Nickelodeon stars whose respective shows are the works of theirs that I’m most familiar with. I think they’re both great actors, but their presence added to the Disney Channel sensation.
Most of the well-known actors were also singers, but they were not stage singers. The studio singing they’re accustomed to didn’t transfer well to live singing.
Julianne Hough, a decent vocalist, had the looks and the dancing skill to play Sandy. Still, she seemed to be less than convincing while playing the part, coming off campy rather than genuine and sweet.
The whole performance wasn’t a complete flop, though. Jordan Fisher’s rendition of “Those Magic Changes” was unexpectedly incredible, and one of the few reasons I didn’t feel like I completely wasted my time watching “Grease Live.” I wanted to like it, but I found myself skipping to the musical numbers for the most part, since the rest of the time everything on screen was bland and forgettable.
A couple of the musical performances stood out, being fairly good. “Greased Lightning” was flashy, well-choreographed and engaging, complete with Aaron Tveit playing Danny Zuko doing monkey rolls with six other mechanics. “Beauty School Dropout” was pretty good as well, and beautifully sung, though the actual dropout played by Carly Rae Jepsen left much to be desired.
“Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee” was sung by Rizzo to mock Sandy and her perceived goody two-shoes demeanor. Hudgen’s performance was one of the better parts of the movie, her musical numbers and acting were more enjoyable than those of the rest of the cast.
I’m not an avid viewer of theater and I’ve only seen a handful of live stage performances that weren’t at a middle or high school. Still, I can appreciate the hard work and rehearsal that goes into live performances. “Grease Live” wasn’t a disaster but it wasn’t very good either. It seemed like an experiment that fell short by relying on star power rather than talent.
Maybe “Grease Live” was meant to cater to a younger audience, one that wasn’t as familiar with the story. I’m sure the flaws and inconsistencies that I saw would go unnoticed by someone who hadn’t seen the original film. Still, it’s the original that garnered the fame which made “Grease Live” worth the attempt at all, and I’d recommend the actual movie over the television special any day.
The good parts were great, but it wasn’t consistently so, and since the good parts weren’t predictable, I couldn’t even get the enjoyment of anticipating them.
I think that a complete remake, an overhaul to bring the story into the current century, would have landed better. Then, at least, the style reminiscent of Disney movies would make more sense and be less of a distraction. It would probably be harder to market a film like that though, especially a live adaptation on the Fox channel. Then again, Fox is the channel that ran “Glee” for seven seasons, which was basically a modern multi-episode high school musical.
The folly was in the attempt to combine the musical movie style of “Grease” with the musical-movie style of Disney, as well as make it a live production that only ran once and was broadcast on a cable channel. They tried to do too much at once, with a cast and crew who couldn’t keep up with the demands of the vision.