After months of rehearsals, Fox aired the long-awaited special “Grease Live” on Sunday, Jan. 31. While similar live theater specials like “The Sound of Music” have been produced by NBC, it was clear that Fox had higher and different expectations for “Grease Live.”
The show had its own set of surprises both for the audience and the team behind “Grease Live.” It started to rain earlier in the day and continued into the live performance, but the production team was on top of it by setting up tarps for outdoor scenes and giving actors umbrellas.
There were also two special cameos by actors from the original 1978 “Grease” movie. Didi Conn, who played Frenchy, had a role as a waitress in the Frosty Palace diner who has a heart-to-heart with this production’s Frenchy, played by Carly Rae Jepson. Barry Pearl, who played Doody in the film, had a role as a television producer.
Compared to other live specials, there were different sets and sound stages in different buildings. This meant that, between scenes, actors were running or being whisked off in golf carts to the next scene. If viewers followed the show on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, they were able to witness these transitions firsthand, which added to the overall experience.
Across 20 acres, there were two sound stages and 21 different sets with a backlot and exterior locations at Warner Brothers studios, where the live performance was filmed.
The addition of a live audience on the set brought forth much-needed energy, especially during the show’s iconic, upbeat numbers like “Summer Nights” and “We Go Together.” The audience was used exceptionally well during “Born to Hand Jive,” since, in the scene, the characters were performing live for “National Bandstand.” The choreography for every scene was a great blend of tradional and modern aspects, the work of choreographer Zach Woodlee. They brought the “live” to “Grease Live.”
The success of “Grease Live” was accomplished greatly due to the cast. The characters have become iconic, but each actor put their own spin on their portrayals. There were, however, some missteps when it came to the characters of Kenickie and Frenchy, played by Carlos PenaVega and Jepson, respectively.
PenaVega’s portrayal of the standoffish Kenickie was anything but. In some scenes, it was almost as if he was crawling at the feet of Rizzo, breathtakingly played by Vanessa Hudgens. Even with PenaVega’s own spin on the character, he wasn’t able to get on the same level as Hudgens’ “don’t care” attitude, which made their romance harder to believe.
While Jepson’s portrayal of Frenchy was extremely well done, the song that was written for her to sing was disjointed compared to the rest of the numbers. The song “All I Need is an Angel” was too contemporary, especially when followed by the doo-wop serenade, “Beauty School Dropout,” which was performed by Boyz II Men.
Aaron Tveit (Danny) and Julianne Hough (Sandy) had a lot of pressure when taking on these roles, yet they both perfectly embodied these characters. Two other actors who stole the show were Keke Palmer (Marty) and Jordan Fisher (Doody), who serenaded the audience with their own respective songs.
Tony Award-winning costume designer William Ivey Long also needs to be mentioned for his remarkable costumes that contributed to the success of these characters and the show itself.
The production’s remarkable ability to combine the best of both the musical and film versions should be commended. The smallest of moments that were added were appreciated by the fans of “Grease,” which is what added to the nostalgia that is associated with this outstanding musical.