A note, before we begin:
You surely heard that Vanessa Hudgens’ father died of cancer the night before the show. Which means during the most intense eight weeks of her professional life — rehearsals for this sucker — she was also enduring the most intense eight weeks of her personal life. That is a massive emotional blow to be dealt right before your show must go on, and she earned the hell out of my lifelong respect. Not just for keeping it together and doing her job, but for doing it beautifully. Sometimes, the only choice you’re given in life is how you deal with the the bitchy unilateral decisions it makes for you. The universe took something away from her on a night when she probably did not have the option to back out, even if she desperately wanted to, and the choice she made was to perform like he was still watching. I dearly hope he was. And that Austin Butler was there waiting for her when the cameras went off. I’m REAL invested in our girl now, Fug Nation. Former Fug Madness winner Vanessa Hudgens got my damn heartstrings.
Also, she had a GREAT time in Rizzo’s sunglasses. AS SHE SHOULD. Rizzo is the Anna Wintour of Rydell. She is to be feared, and cherished, and obeyed, but also loved and respected. IF YOU CUT HER DOES SHE NOT BLEED? Also she is resolute about her hairstyle and never far from her giant shades. Totally the same.
Okay, let’s dive in:
Well. For my money, even with its issues, that kicked NBC’s offerings around the block.
When the beans learned to walk, Liam beat Dylan to it by a couple months. Dylan sat back and pretended not to care while Liam figured out one step, two steps, three; how to get up when he fell, how to bend over and pick up something without taking a tumble himself. And then suddenly Dylan decided to walk too. Within two minutes he was doing laps around the living room, hitting all the milestones right away that Liam had eased up to; we’d thought he wasn’t paying attention, but it turns out he was letting Liam do the trial-and-error part so he could learn those lessons too and then sweep in and knock us flat. That is now I feel about The Sound of Music Live, Peter Pan Live, and The Wiz Live, as compares with this. FOX let NBC chum the waters, and then caught the shark. Now, granted, one of those musicals is about Nazis, one is about a man-child and has racist undertones and actually overtones also, and one is a dark fantasy. So Grease, for all its flaws, is the peppiest and lightest of the lot, and that’s not an insignificant advantage. But FOX then hired Thomas Kail from Hamilton (and yes, I apologize in advance for all hackneyed Ham references) to direct a sweeping production that took the cast all around Warner Bros’s lot, which added a big logistical element — and, in fact, THE elements — to the affair that the others lacked. But it worked. It FELT bigger. And it was a boost in energy having a live audience, masked as extras (free bodies, everyone!), to react to some of the scenes. Yes, it felt at times like these people forgot the difference between watching a musical and watching a concert, but it actually didn’t bother me because it gave the cast energy to feed off of — and besides, most of the world knows these songs. If we don’t hear the lyrics to “Greased Lightnin'” quite so clearly because the audience is whooping it up, for me that’s a fine tradeoff for the vibe it provided.
It did not, however, help the jokes land. Some of that is acting, sure, but a LOT of if might be that in the theatre you can take as many comedic breaths as you want. In film and TV, you get multiple takes, and your timing and performance can be goosed in the edit bay. But on live TV, you have a rundown. You have marks to hit, timings to nail, and in the case of this show, quick changes and shuttles to the next soundstage. And I suspect the actors, aware of all this, were nervous about letting their reactions and one-liners develop. Not that Grease isn’t mostly corny anyway, but when you hear something you KNOW is meant to be a joke, and the air after it is dead as can be, the knee-jerk reaction is to think, “Oh, that TANKED.” When in fact, a lot of times, audiences mostly laugh for each other. I don’t laugh out loud at stuff very often when I watch it alone at home, but if I’m in a movie theatre, I do, and I think it’s an unconscious We’re All In This Together kind of aura. It’d be nice if someday there was a way to give the actors that kind of feedback. This was a step in the right direction, though.
INTO THE BREACH. By which I mean, the beach.
It occurred to me as I watched this that I never knew where Rydell High was supposed to be. Not at the beach, obviously, because Danny spent his summer lifeguarding there and his friends back at Rydell act like he was on some exotic foreign adventure, unreachable by man or beast. In this version, Sandy is from Salt Lake City — there are oblique references to her Mormonism elsewhere, scapegoating it for the fact that she’s not that into losing her virginity in a convertible in front of all their classmates — and while I know Olivia Newton John was not the first Sandy, she is THE Sandy, to me, and so I keep wanting her to be Australian. Also, Sandy’s Parents, it’s not very nice to decide RIGHT at the end of the summer, as school is beginning, that you’re changing your plans and moving to the non-beachfront Rydell High school district.
Anyway, Aaron Tveit (Danny) and Julianne Hough (Sandy) begin this in front of a green-screen, where she’s in her bathing suit and he’s in a dress shirt from Banana Republic. Their summer dreams are being ripped at the seams, you guys. “Just think about what’s happening right… NOW,” Danny says, and BOOM:
1. “Grease (Is The Word)”
Jessie J is there, because of course Jessie J is there. Jessie J, given the choice, would always be there. Jessie J gives off the impression of being someone whose agents constantly send out thoughtful memos that point out how easily she could be there, anywhere, anytime, if you want. Which isn’t to say Jessie J isn’t talented. She is. She annihilates “Grease (Is The Word)” while walking from the soundstage all across Warner Bros., ending in front of the Rydell High exterior set (I spent a LOT of time trying to figure out where exactly this is on Warner Bros., which of the studios here is easily the one I have been to most; this is, I believe, Stars Hollow High from Gilmore Girls and Rosewood High from Pretty Little Liars). But her presence was sort of random, right? Even though it feels somehow RIGHT that Jessie J would pop up here, I somehow also didn’t expect Jessie J. Does anyone TRULY expect Jessie J? Her chief weapon, much like the Spanish Inquisition, may be surprise. Technically, that famous sketch opens with fear and THEN surprise, but I’m not AFRAID of Jessie J, so much as wondering if her desired world domination is ever going to happen.
Please note her being trailed by the Pink Ladies and Wendell Pierce (The Wire), the latter of whom is blowing his trombone in a way that would make his Treme character proud. These guys must have been EXCRETING BRICKS (it’s a family show!) when the bad weather rolled in on Saturday night; Sunday morning the rain was rather intense. It had only just cleared by the time this began, and even so, they had a little drizzle at the beginning. They also apparently scrapped this opening the day-of because of heavy winds, and then with TEN MINUTES TO AIR, they reverted BACK to this one because the weather and cleared.
Here are your Pink Ladies, and your T-Bones:
Actually, I can’t remember if it’s Grease or Grease 2 — or both — in which the principal keeps calling them the T-Bones. It might be Grease 2, during that insipid talent show plotline. It’s not great for me that after some of these songs, I got Grease 2 numbers stuck in my head instead. (She just wants a Cool Rider, you guys, and to prove it, she learned to spell it. That must be genuine.)
Ahem. That’s Carly Rae Jepsen as Frenchy; The Hudge as Rizzo; Keke Palmer as Marty “The Cherry” Maraschino; Kether Donahue as Jan; Jordan Fisher from Disney’s Liv & Maddie as Doody (how did I not register that one of them is named Doody? Wouldn’t the T-Birds have changed that immediately to something cooler?); Andrew Call as Sonny; Kenicke, played by Carlos PenaVega (husband of Alexa, who was Gunnar’s almost-babymama on Nashville and whose sister is Grace on The Good Wife); and David Del Rio as Putzie. Seriously, those nicknames has to be a Danny Zuko power play. Make sure you have two dudes in your group called Doody and Putzie so that they probably won’t ever challenge you for dominance.
Poor old Eugene The Nerd is getting sexually assaulted here by his own rocket poster, which has been curled into a thrusting phallus. It’s here that I should point out that FOX put this on at 7 p.m. and made a big deal out of changing some “Greased Lightnin'” lyrics to make it a “family-friendly” production. And yet: a) We open with the T-Birds asking if Danny’s summer girlfriend put out, and yes, that’s separate from the song about that later; b) a wang joke; c) “Did she put up a fight?” remained a part of Summer Lovin,'” a.k.a. one of the perkiest, most popular songs about sexual aggression in history; and d) IT’S GREASE, YOU GUYS. The ENTIRE PLOT of this musical is, essentially, whether Sandy will give it up, and it ENDS with the implication that she SHOULD because otherwise she’ll be lonely and unpopular. I love Grease, but it’s not without its problems. Tweaking “Greased Lightnin” — per the official High School Productions Version — to take out the word “cream” and the phrase “pussy wagon” does not solve the problems you are thereby also acknowledging that you’re causing by putting it on at 7, and they certainly aren’t the only suggestive things to consider.
And the thing is, I actually don’t have a problem with changing those lyrics — “pussy wagon” is a gross phrase, y’all; even Glee changed it — and I’m sure it was Standards and Practices giving it a line-by-line analysis rather than the producers or director. It just makes me laugh to draw a firm line there, pat yourself on the back for it publicly, and then let DoodyPutz waggle his wang-substitutes at people all over town. He gets it on with a wrench later, and I forgot to screengrab it, but I mean, you can imagine. Dudes can’t frolic in song around a car without implying that a massive wrench is the equal of their manhoods.
Ana Gasteyer and this relative newcomer named Haneefah Wood play Principal McGee and Blanche, respectively. Blanche is funny but almost entirely silent; most of her gags play out on her face. Gasteyer’s bits all pretty much die on the vine, although she did appear to improv an amusing line later — in discussions about whether National Bandstand will broadcast from Rydell — wherein she glanced near the camera and said, “I just hope it doesn’t RAIN.”
Enter Sandy: She’s late! She had to walk! She’s from Utah! She’s helpful to this elderly high-schooler who is carring Sophia Petrillo’s purse but in pink! Seriously, the one thing about Grease is that I never understood why Frenchy was in the Pink Ladies. She had no libido — which, neither does Sandy, and yet Sandy is pilloried for it — and doesn’t seem to have anything in common with any of them. Was she just the useful friend who did everyone’s toenails? Hough’s costumes are great, though. She is basically pitch-perfect casting for this. She already played a version of this girl in Rock of Ages, where she has Big Ideas and sings wistfully at the sky and looks professionally adorable, and falls in love with a guy who is just as committed to song. And she has that ability to be extremely sweet and warm and wide-eyed without it reading as cloying. It just comes off as friendly. It’s a magic trick akin to Amy Adams in Enchanted.
2. Summer Lovin’
The T-Birds have a very nice talk on the bleachers about Danny’s summer girlfriend, and whether Danny was able to park his car in her garage, and whether she gave him too much trouble before capitulating and letting him go about his sexual business. Oh, T-Birds. I just treat this shit as a time capsule, you know? I’ll enjoy the better intentions and the better songs for what they are, and roll my eyes at the rest and eventually make sure my children know that people should not talk or think this way about women, and that dudes were dumber in 1959, and that they should not aspire to be douchehole greasepigs.
Sandy’s choreography DOES send a mixed message about her carnal readiness, though. But she’s still allowed to put up a fight, GENTLEMEN, and if she does then she should WIN IT. AHEM DANNY. Some people DO go to the Drive-In to watch the movie, you old horndog.
I love that in this shot, you can see Rizzo in the background, having checked her lunch tray to see if she has any spare f*cks to give, and finding none.
This number was pretty good, but at first I thought Julianne Hough might’ve had a cold or not been able to warm up properly (I wonder if driving back and forth among stages in the chill was not ideal; as Fraulein Maria told us all, this night air is not good for the children’s voices). But actually, she sounded fine at other times, so here is my conclusion: Dancing well, and singing well, are two difficult skills she has mastered. But singing well WHILE dancing well is much harder, and I wonder if her breath got away from her at times. Also, everyone’s sound levels were a little off in this one.
SIDEBAR: I can understand why people thought some of this was lip-synched — FOX swears it was all live — because there are times when there is NO PLACE to put a microphone, and no visible mic pack… I want to see a whole technical Making Of that tells me exactly how they did their tricks. Most of the time it did seem live; my second (and third) viewing was on my iPhone, and I think the sound and video were slightly out of sync in a couple places, which rang a few alarm bells. But when I closed my eyes it sounded live and not like a sweetened recording, and when I rechecked those parts with my DVR recording, most of them seemed fine. So. We have concluded nothing.
2a) Mario Lopez
Because nothing says Serious Musical Theater like A.C. Slater.
Mario occasionally kicked us to commercial. It was cheesy, and silly. But here’s what it also did: gave energy. I know I bang on about that a lot, but cutting to commercial on DEAD SILENCE after what should be a triumphant musical number is SO WEIRD. NBC taught us that. This was the first commercial break, and we did have some cheering, and that helped, but putting Mario there did keep the verve levels high. Fortunately, they used him this way very sparingly. We do not always need to be guided to our feelings, people. We know this is exciting. And big. And live. IT’S RIGHT THERE IN THE TITLE.
3) Random Cheerleading Interlude
If you were asking me to make cuts, I would point squarely at this part. They probably wanted to show off the fact that they could pull off something showy outdoors; the ffect was very “LOOK WHAT WE CAN DOOOOO,” with the cheerleading formation and the large bleachers full of anachronistically clad spectators and the basic lack of character development. Well, except for Patty Simcox. This show seemed to fall in love with that actress, and while she WAS good — and hugely committed to that part — sometimes sticking with her so much killed the other story momentum. I think her little bits were mostly filler to make sure the other actors had time to get in place.
Here, she has tryouts for the squad, so that she can get super competitive with Sandy. Who, despite her strict parents not letting her dance in public (she mentions this later) because of how suddenly we are in Footloose, is allowed to be a cheerleader and was stellar at it in Utah.
Again, my theory is, they either needed to buy time to switch some sets/transport cast members here, or they realized having a professional dancer in the cast whose character was restricted in terms of actual DANCING was a waste. So here we go, having a Whose Pom-Pons Are Larger contest. Sandy wins handily.
Patty is outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered, outplanned. She’s gonna need a right-hand man.
So Sandy makes the squad. This will be important later when OH WAIT no it won’t.
Even Rizzo knows this. Jan and Frenchy and even Marty are thrilled by Sandy’s acrobatics, and Riz is like, “Where DID I leave all my spare f*cks? Oh, that’s right, I don’t have any.” She will never be satisfied.
This is also where we meet the Scorpions. This guy is fairly evocative of the dude from the movie, except he doesn’t look 47.
But you need to celebrate Background Scorpion, who doesn’t hesitate. He exhibits no restraint; he just takes and he takes and he takes. That reaction shot is magical.
We all pretty much know the plot here, but yes, Rizzo figures out that Sandy thinks her summer love goes to a fancy boarding school, and arranges it so that Sandy and Danny see each other at a pep rally. AFTER her big cheerleading audition, and at a very small high school where there do not appear to be many new girls. Danny was JUST complaining that there isn’t any fresh meat, so you’d think he’d have sniffed out the new girl hours ago. I’m beginning to think Danny is not very curious about life. Danny, I have concerns. Are you directionless? Do you suffer from occasional night fevers? Wait, wrong actor.
Danny acts like a dummy, because he has a rep to protect or something, and makes Sandy feel totally expendable and like he sold her a bill of goods. I’m not sure why I’m recapping the plot here. Everyone knows the plot: Danny is a dude, and Sandy doesn’t know what that means. At least her being sheltered explains that a bit. In the film, she’s just Australian. As if Australia, ascetic and Puritanical and deeply naive, had not yet gotten the shipment of books about the birds and the bees and legitimately DID just accept babies by stork delivery.
Sidebar again: I’ve always felt like Grease tried to have it too many ways with Rizzo. Like, she’s with Kenicke, but she isn’t, but she is; she’s hot for Danny, but she isn’t, but she is. She wants to get back with him, but she doesn’t mind THAT much, but she does actually… when I watch it, I just pretend she and Kenicke are each other’s argumentative and emotionally stunted lobsters, and that all the other stuff is just noise.
4. “Freddie, My Love”
This number is from the original musical. Here is where I have to confess: I haven’t ever seen Grease on stage. I grew up with the movie, and it never seemed all that NECESSARY to go see it on stage (plus nobody was doing it). It wasn’t until middle school that I even heard this one, and it’s a little silly and sleepy, but it gives Marty her moment in the sun and apparently Grease Live decided to run with that. They came up with a cute way to make it more lively, though. Basically, I don’t completely understand Marty’s character. In the movie she was just kind of a horny ditz who is easily flattered namely by Vince Fontaine. The inclusion of this number stirs in the backstory that she is practically a professional pen pal for soldiers abroad, who respond to her love letters with lots of gifts. And Keke Palmer plays her with a VERY confident aura. If I’m being honest, I thought she way, way overacted this role. It’s like ACTINGGGG times ten. She has a lot of personal charisma, but she drowns the character in it; she plays Marty as aggressively EVERYTHING: haughty, sultry, zippy, quippy, confident, flirty. It was a lot. Often too much.
But, her vocals were nice, and they gave her a REALLY showy bit of technical thunder.
They telegraphed it a little, unintentionally, because you can see her costume under the nightie. She begins in her room, then sings directly to the camera as she sidles toward the wall, where she opens a door and then rips off the blue nightgown — and you actually HEAR the rip, which is hilarious and possibly unintentional.
Then she walks out into a fantasy sequence — the girls called her a “one -woman USO” earlier, due to all the military pen pals she’s stringing along — in which she’s wearing a glittering red wrap dress.
Jan, Rizzo, and Frenchy do a backstage quick-change into military uniforms from their PJs — theirs was apparently an 11-second move, and I would’ve loved to see how they did it; Jan, I think, had it on under her PJs, but Frenchy and Rizzo probably had to throw stuff on atop theirs — and they all finish the song here, until Marty turns back and walks into her room again. She then rips the red dress off to reveal the green nightie again. So basically, she began the scene in three layers: underlying nightie, red dress over it, and then tear-away nightie on top. I thought this was an effective way to take a number that could be throwaway — and in fact was thrown away, when the movie got made — and turn it into an actress’s showpiece.
This was the number where I REALLY couldn’t figure out how and where they were mic’ing everyone. Apparently they did clean up a lot of the sound for the West Coast re-airing, which is a bummer, because I’d like to have heard the raw version. But dialogue and songs were, for the most part, impressively clear.
5. “Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee”
Vanessa Hudgens’ first big number went really well. She put on the bad blond wig and she frolicked in the drapery and jumped on the bed and sounded great; she hit her high notes clean and clear, even while leaping around the room. Hard to do — and let’s also credit her for wearing a wig on a wig, and even better, for the fact that her first wig didn’t go askew when she put on or ripped off the second one. Wig wrangling is an art, y’all. Whoever secured the first one did a bang-up job.
I also wanted you to see Julianne Hough’s massive housecoat/bathrobe combo that she got to wear. Also, when I was a kid and I first saw this, I thought “lousy with virginity” meant that she was just really bad at being a virgin. Or lousy at knowing what to do with it. This made for a confusing experience.
5a. “Sandra Dee” Reprise
Rizzo leaves to go get frisky with Kenicke, and the other girls go downstairs to watch TV on the 20-inch set. (“How do you know where to LOOK?” coos Marty. O INNOCENCE.) Sandy takes this time to put on some lipstick, FINALLY, and yet she’s the only person in the world to look that good in orange-red lippy and somehow feel worse about her life. “You’re no object of lust,” she sings to herself. Sandy, are you not paying attention? You were Danny’s object of lust ALL FREAKING SUMMER. I know she thinks he’s brushing her off because she’s uncool or whatever, but LOOK AT YOUR FACE. THEY ALL WANT TO BANG YOU. CLEARLY THAT IS NOT YOUR PROBLEM HERE. Apparently I don’t have time for Sandy’s confidence crises.
Let’s stop for a second to watch Rizzo and Kenicke get it on. She responsibly asks if he has protection — KIDS! WRAP IT UP! — and his dime-store condom breaks coming out of the wrapper. But she decides to have sex with him anyway, because she’s bored, and he’s there. This movie is a wonderful, tender romance.
Meanwhile, the Fresh Beat Band shows up and rams its car into Kenicke’s. Guys, that’s not what friends do; friends give friends hand, fools. They also go do bananas, I guess, though, so I could see where there might be some confusion. (And if YOU are confused: Cha-Cha up there is played by Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer, aka Kiki on The Fresh Beat Band, a Nickeodeon show for kids in which full-grown adults act like 12-year old asexual bandmates and the women exclusively wear leggings and tunics, which might actually have been a relevant part of her audition reel for this.) Poor Rizzo. They decide to keep going afterward, but Kenicke says later his heart wasn’t in the banging because of how Mr. Scorpion dented his beloved future racing automobile. Can we at LEAST give Rizzo the gift of a hypnotic vagina? This production sort of botches the “I hate you but I love to bang you and wait now I might actually love you too” vibe between these two. I don’t know that I felt he liked her much until the very end, at which point she seems to settle for him just because he has a nice twinkle in his eye.
Oh, and we have a cameo here:
Barry Pearl played Doody in the film. Here, he’s Vince Fontaine’s producer, ogling Marty Maraschino and deciding Rydell High might be the perfect venue for National Bandstand after all. It must have been a total kick to see this revived on such a large scale.
6. “Greased Lightnin'”
It’s a real “hotty wagon” that will make the girls “scream.” So sayeth the sage, Danny Zuko, who can speak from his 85 years of experience. Aaron Tveit is really talented. I remember in Les Miserables thinking that his Enjolras was basically the best part — he performed rings around Eddie Redmayne as wimpy, weepy, ineffectual Marius — and in many ways Danny is the Enjolras of the T-Birds: He’s a leader, he’s not afraid to die on this hill, and he likes to rouse men through song.
In another nifty bit of production, the camera moves away from the car, and when it comes back, they’ve swapped in a decorated one. Then the T-Birds come back in their Dream Jumpsuits and get jiggy for a little while. I’m unclear who is the one fantasizing that they all put on spandex racing suits. Danny, I guess? Kenicke? DoodyPutz doesn’t have enough collective agency to control anything in this story.
Then another panning trick, and poof, the old car AND the old costumes are back. I sincerely hope they had a camera on all the quick changes, for the eventual DVD release.
Then we go to the Frosty Burger, which is aptly named, as far as Sandy’s mood:
These two really ARE good casting choices. He looks somewhat older than the other T-Birds, but this is neither the first nor the last Grease production to have an elderly Steve Sanders type pretending he’s in high school. (Also, Aaron Tveit is only 32, and therefore clearly not ACTUALLY elderly. We’re speaking PURELY comparatively, which you’ll see when that adorable fetus Jordan Fisher sings in a second. Also Julianne Hough looks about 15, which pushes things even further.)
Sandy is at the diner with her sweet dumb jock:
“I’m a football player. WHEEEEE!”
In all seriousness, this boy is making a tower out of things on the table, crowned with his burger and then his fries. It is REVESE FOOD JENGA. He is clearly the hero of this piece and should run off with Rizzo IMMEDIATELY to hang out with better people.
7. Those Magic Changes
This song is traditionally performed early in the show, but they VERY cleverly stuck it here as a punny backdrop to Danny’s quick and adept costume changes in the Rydell gym — and RIGHT after those “Greased Lightnin'” ones, too. I love it. I refuse to believe this is accidental. They ARE magic changes. Even Doody gets in on the act.
He begins in the diner, in a leather jacket, while a bored Rizzo plays solitaire. I feel you, Rizzo. GO TALK TO TOM THE FOOTBALL PLAYER. He is making FOOD HISTORY over there.
Danny, meanwhile, goes into the gym dressed like a T-Bird. We cut to Doody sitting in the bleachers singing a chorus, and then back to Danny suddenly decked out in MUSCLES.
Lord, show me how to say no to this.
Yet another sidebar: This worked in the film because Travolta was a gangly sort. Aaron Tveit clearly takes care of that bod. He WORKS IT. So the idea that any Danny Zuko who looks like THAT would be unable to grasp the basics of physical motion and activity is crazy to me. However, thank you, everyone involved with this production, for this entire outfit. This week brought us him AND Matthew Goode Drinks Beer While Sex-Twinkling At Lady Mary, and let me tell you, 2016 needed both of those things.
We take a Danny break to go over to Doody, now wearing a different jacket but sounding like TOTAL perfection (Jordan Fisher’s voice is like the best of Marc Anthony mixed with Bruno Mars)…
… and the camera pops over to Danny again, in a FULL tracksuit this time, so he can fail at wrestling.
Another new outfit for Doody…
… and more shorts again for America. This time, Danny tries out for track, nails it, and draws Sandy out of the stands and back into his life. Because OF COURSE. LOOK AT YOU. Sandy may experience romance like she’s locked into soft restraints, but she still has EYEBALLS.
Doody gets to finish with one last good jacket, while he and Danny high-five that being an athlete is totally going to unlock Sandy’s chastity belt. This number was one of my favorites because it was such a surprise to me. I don’t know it well, but it was used to clever perfection, and this kid can wail.
Also, Doody & Danny sounds like its own Disney show. It’s about a boy and his pet ferret, the latter of whom is a SnapChat celebrity.
8. “All I Need Is An Angel”
Let’s start with the good:
Didi Conn is A FREAKING DELIGHT. She is warm and personable and terrific, and unfortunately for Carly Rae Jepsen, she just reminds you why she was a fantastic Frenchy. You really felt her Frenchy’s confusion and sadness when everything fell apart for her. Whereas CRJ started out okay with the dialogue — she was natural enough, and she brought an uncomplicated warmth to the proceedings — but then things went a bit remote and distant, and sometimes garbled. And then:
Maybe you can’t tell from this shot, but she sang this entire song as if the titular “Angel” was supposed to refer to her, and she needed to be a gleaming cherub. This song was, to me, a disaster from every creative standpoint.
– It ground the entire production to a halt. Nobody needs to hear from Frenchy right here. Nobody in the history of Grease has ever thought, “You know what? Not enough Frenchy,” no matter how great Didi Conn is. Unless it’s a showstopper, and it wasn’t, it’s not worth the detour.
– It’s way too obviously a bid for an Emmy, because they can’t win one without an original piece in here.
– It’s too on the nose (“All I need is an angel…. OH LOOK, the Teen Angels!”).
– It’s too anachronistic. It didn’t sound nearly 1959 enough. Which, again, might be something one could overlook if it was full glory notes and stirring stuff, but…
– Carly Rae Jepsen’s voice is not sufficiently strong for this. She sounded reedy and breathy, and too insubstantial to justify this excursion. I’m not saying she isn’t a capable or talented person. I just don’t think this is her medium.
– This song played way too perky. It’s essentially Frenchy pleading with the universe to send her someone, anyone, to help her figure out her life. But… you know how on American Idol, they’d constantly end up with 16-year olds singing emotional ballads about sex and heartache, and they had NO IDEA what any of that meant or felt like, so they’d sing them like pageant contestants? And then Simon would point out that their performance had no soul, and everyone would boo, but he was completely right? That’s exactly what happens here. She just smiles and sings and beams her angelic little beam, and totally misses the heart of the song. The music is to blame for a lot of it, because Carly Rae Jepsen can’t really sing a plaintive ballad if the actual melody betrays her. But… as I said, a failure from concept to execution, for me.
9. “Beauty School Dropout”
Oh, Boys II Men. This would have been more fun if they’d just starting singing, “I’ll Make Love To You,” since that’s basically what everyone in this show wants to say to each other anyway. (If you’re wondering, the fourth member left the band due to scoliosis — ??? — and also “personal problems,” per Wikipedia, and negotiations to bring him back in ended a few years ago. He is, then, essentially, a Man Band School Dropout.)
CRJ gave a cute interview where she said that she was SO ENTHRALLED by Boys II Men serenading her that Thomas Kail kept having to tell her to pull it together. And she did get a little fluttery with the eyelashes. I really loved the idea of this casting, and they were technically adept, but I don’t think the song landed. This is a very direct, acerbic song, and the greatness of it is having someone deliver all these awful home truths totally straight — in a way it’s the “You’ll Be Back” and other King George numbers of Hamilton. And unfortunately, the vocal runs and flourishes that BIIM (oh man that’s a bad abbrev) put on it ended up swallowing a lot of the words and the humor. I kind of wish they’d had Michael Buble do it. Or Marc Anthony. Or Lionel Richie, or freaking Prince. OH MY GOD PRINCE WOULD HAVE BEEN SO AMUSING, although totally the wrong vocal vibe. Bruno Mars? I mean, look, they never could have afforded any of those people, ESPECIALLY Prince. But my point is, get one dude who can deliver that big-band sound, or at least a crisply cheesy period performance that gives the right contrast with the actual words in the song.
10. “Rock and Roll Is Here To Stay”
Joe Jonas’s band DNCE cameo’d as Johnny Casino and the Gamblers, and they… did not sound great. But they also didn’t have to; there wasn’t huge heavy lifting required here. All the kids needed to do was DNCE to something peppy. Done.
Also apparently his guitarist is Janice from the Muppets come to life.
During the well-done black-and-white segments indicating we’re watching the telecast, Joe’s guitarist’s exuberant Mohawk got its close-up. Should they maybe have made them all wear wigs? Because come on now. Unless that dude got hazed in the boys’ locker room after PE, that is not 1959 hair.
At the DNCE, we now get Frenchie and Doody paired together, because apparently everyone has to end up with someone, even if they have not spoken for the entire rest of the movie. Settling: It’s what’s for dinner. Rizzo looks awesome in red, and Cha-Cha comes on Kenicke’s arm, looking for all the world like he put money in a stamped addressed envelope and received her in the mail 4-6 weeks later.
10a. Vince Fontaine
Mario Lopez was in the house the whole night, and I could not BELIEVE they didn’t have him suit up and play a wrestler. He’s A.C. Slater! This is about the only project in the WORLD where an A.C. Slater visual reference makes ACTUAL SENSE! But it’s true that the cameo they came up with for him was rather good:
I have to admit, I laughed at his Vince Fontaine, from him complaining about his makeup to drooling over Marty. He played the aging lech to perfection.
Marty shows up to hit on him, and hard. If I remember correctly, Movie Marty flirted a little at first, but then a LOT once she commanded his attention. Keke plays her like a red hot predator, dripping with quippy lust right up until the last second, when suddenly her face changed and she was all, “I didn’t realize you were so… old.” What? It didn’t play funny. It was just weird. Her portrayal was all over the place, frankly. But she certainly looked fantastic.
11. “Born To Hand Jive”
This song is undeniable. It’s SO CATCHY. Your toe cannot but tap to the melody. Vanessa Hudgens looks great during this DNCE contest — honestly, I would’ve put that dress on Cha-Cha, I think, because you can’t look anywhere but at Rizzo when she’s on-screen and I THINK Cha-Cha was supposed to have that effect.
Rizzo, sadly, gets cut from the contest for simulating having a man sit on her face. And yeah, maybe that wasn’t the wisest choice, but you have to commend her balance and core strength.
Patty gets her skirt ripped off, revealing her ruffled undies. She gets cut for that even though people are dry-humping rampantly all around the dance floor.
And then Sandy and Danny go. Okay, again: In the movie, wasn’t she doing just fine, until Cha-Cha nosed her way in and kind of pushed Sandy out of the way, and she left because Danny went along with it? Here, they play it that she is afraid of getting on-camera. And it doesn’t make sense, because WHY IS SHE EVEN THERE THEN. They’re filming the entire thing. She’s PARTICIPATING in the actual DNCE contest portion. If she’s that afraid of her parents seeing her, and knowing she lied about being at Frenchy’s that night, why is she even out there, letting Danny flip her upside-down? Sandy, your messages, they are mixed. Anyway, she sees the camera and scampers away, and when Danny acts confused and doesn’t join her, she frowns and runs off.
Danny rolls with it.
I assume this is Aaron Tveit’s 2016 holiday card.
And that’s how Danny ends up with a bride-for-hire wrapped around his pelvis. Even in limited action, Julianne Hough was such a better dancer (although they couldn’t resist giving her a knowing line earlier: “Who would want to watch a bunch of amateur DNCErs compete on live TV,” or somesuch), and Hudgens also had Cha-Cha beat. I would’ve assumed you would want your very, very, very best dancer in the Cha-Cha part, so she can blow everyone away and make it SUPER CLEAR why Danny would stay out on the dance floor with her, but instead… I don’t know. The choreography for this part was lackluster and it felt like they were working around certain limitations. Whether they were hers, or his, I don’t know. But it didn’t make for much of a show-stopper.
11. “Hopelessly Devoted To You”
I believe they moved this from right after the slumber party. It made more sense there. Also, moving his here means Sandy didn’t actually DO very much for the first half of this production, and once you thread in commercial breaks, it was easy to forget she and Danny had any kind of emotional connection at all.
HOWEVER; Julianne Hough sounded really lovely on this. (On the East Coast, and on the streaming version, you hear a hit of static during her singing, but I don’t recall it from the West Coast TV broadcast; maybe they put up the East Coast one online before they tidied it up?) It amuses me that they left an empty kiddie pool on her lawn. In the original movie, it was noted on Twitter, she glances into something like that and sees her reflection, and then his; they don’t pull that trick here, but I wish they had tried. Sticking the prop pool there anyway was hilariously unnecessary. I wish they had pulled back to reveal that her dad was lying in it passed out and surrounded by crushed empty Pabst cans.
This shot made me laugh. She’s just gotten his ring, and decided it’s a sign that he totally respects her as a person, and he is flummoxed because he hoped it would mean she would take off her shirt. They don’t even kiss. She stops it from happening. Girl, you made out with him at the beach. YOU ARE ALREADY GO FOR LIPLOCK. What’s your hangup now? NEITHER of you will ever be satisfied.
Would Sandy REALLY have a push-up bra that aggressive?
After Danny tries to fondle her, Sandy strands him at the drive-in, brands him a fool, and leaves him all alone to sing about his confusion. He literally can’t figure out why she left, because he might be the stupidest main character alive. It’s always annoyed me that he goes for the boob in this scene, because I can’t tell who it’s for: If it’s him acting as the Danny who actually LIKES Sandy and kind of wants a real relationship but is afraid to admit it in front of his friends, then he has no respect for her AND he is not very detail-oriented because OBVIOUSLY she is not into getting frisky in a convertible in public. And if it’s him trying to show off for his friends, then WHO ARE THOSE CREEPY FRIENDS who are watching you get frisky in a convertible in public? WHO CARES. It just never made sense. That move was never, ever going to work, and then he gets all soul-sad about it because, waaah, he’s confused, and she ran off, and he’s soooo sad? MINDFULNESS, Daniel.
13. “There Are Worse Things I Could Do”
Here’s the thing: Hudgens was GREAT. I feel like not enough people harassed her before this song, though; Patty Simcox was a jerk, but we don’t like Patty. We’ve been conditioned not to like her. We WOULD, however, feel crappy for Rizzo if her friends — people she cared about — were being cavalier about her maybe being pregnant. Did it play like that more in the movie? It’s been awhile. Also, I can’t believe I’m giving notes on Grease. This thing has been in stone for an eternity now.
Anyway, as much as I wish the story had given Rizzo more to play off, in terms of trying to act brave and being secretly wounded, Vanessa Hudgens did beautifully with this song.
This role was smart for her. She even commented somewhere that she’d had to pause for a sec when it came up, because she always thought of herself as more of a Sandy, and I can see that. But she can’t play Gabriela in High School Musical forever, and her edgier acting projects haven’t really garnered much attention (Spring Breakers got notoriety, maybe, but that’s not always the same thing). Here, she gets to play very nicely against type, while also utilizing all the skills that brought her to the dance in the first place. Whoever helped convince her to take it deserves a raise.
14. The Car Race
Someone please tell me if this whole conversation about whether Danny will be Kenicke’s “Second” occurs in the stage show. Because it’s basically SUCH a nod to Hamilton’s songs about dueling and the concept of having a Second; Kenicke even explains it in dueling terms. Either that’s a massive coincidence, or Thomas Keil had a little fun here.
Then we get all the blah-blah where Kenicke is afraid he’s going to be a dad and also get killed in this road race against Scorpion, so Danny fixes it so he has to step in and duel for him. The pick a place to die where it’s high and dry. And although Danny is inexperienced and Scorpion is ruinous, we’re doing this: Cha-Cha raises the flag, and off they go. Man, George Washington is going to be pissed when he finds out.
Lots of people on Twitter thought this was corny, and I see their point. But I honestly don’t know how else they were supposed to stage this. You’re putting yourself in an impossible situation, having to do a stationary car race. The way Keil does it is, he shakes the cameras a bit, uses lights and smoke, and mixes in overhead angles and pushes to create the illusion of movement. I have to say, I thought he did a super creative job. You can’t see it here, but there were times when it looked like the ground beneath them was moving pavement, and they got at least one spinning tire in the mix here for a close-up (whether that was pre-taped, I don’t know; they did pan up from it to Danny in the car, though, so it would be an elaborate pre-taped piece to cut in without anyone noticing continuity errors).
The lipstick cams inside the cars were a little much, it’s true. As was Scorpion’s hair. It looks like a tongue curling down over his face. He is basically licking his own forehead.
15. “You’re The One that I Want”
Here’s your big moment:
She is seriously, SERIOUSLY perfect casting. And she looks ridiculously good in the damn outfit.
Danny letters in track, because I guess AN ENTIRE YEAR has gone by during the course of Grease. How is that even possible? It is my belief that NO ONE who is associated with ANY production of Grease, EVER, has understood quite how that time passed, in terms of Time Spent With Sandy and Danny Dating Or Not Dating Or Whatever. But Sandy, of course, has realized that life is too boring if you don’t take any chances, so she decides to chuck her entire upbringing and let Danny off the hook for whatever positive change he was enacting in his life. Also, can we talk about what her parents are going to think? She was afraid of them seeing her dancing on TV, but now she’s good throwing out her entire wardrobe? “Hey, Mom, Dad, I’m going to the movies. Also I only wear spandex now.”
I love this song, though. I don’t think I realized how much. Especially because I was in college when that Grease megamix was so popular, and that kinda ruined the songs for me temporarily. “You’re The One That I Want” is really triumphant and catchy, though, and it’s the kind of final number where right near the end I get swept up in it and think to myself, “I wish I could rewind my life and take voice lessons. MY LIFE COULD HAVE BEEN SO DIFFERENT. I WANT TO BE IN THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENS.” Never mind that no voice lessons in the world can turn a bass into a soprano, and also, the potato chips.
And of course, this isn’t the finale, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
Rizzo makes up with Kenicke wearing TERRIBLE shorts. Oh, Riz. Also, Rizzo does not idly hula-hoop in the school gym during the year-end carnival. Rizzo smokes under the bleachers and spikes the snow cones.
Kether Donahue of You’re The Worst actually made a good Jan. She created an affect for the character but then deployed it really naturally, if that tortured sentence makes ANY sense, and she was lively and randy in all of her scenes. She also got to have a lot of fun with food props, like this snow cone, and a Twinkie early in the show. I didn’t mean to cut her so much out of the recap, but the bummer of it is that she’s SUPPOSED to sing “Mooning” and they cut that number. We had to sit through Frenchy wishing out loud for Boys II Men to come tell her what to do, but we didn’t get an actual tune from the actual show?
Regardless, she was fun, and she’s totally the person from the cast who you want to get drinks with this week. She will have ALL of the lowdown and LOADS of juicy stories and she will tell them to you in exacting detail, but also it will take like five hours because she’ll meander her way through them and forget details and randomly jump you back to fill them in and then leap forward again. You won’t mind — it will be worth it — but you WILL have a hangover the next day, so you should pick a bar that also serves food. It will help a little.
I also need to applaud her for doing EXACTLY what EVERY MAN-LOVING PERSON IN AMERICA would have done in her shoes, at this moment. As Danny tells them all that they’ll TOTALLY stay friends forever, because LIES, Kether/Jan just fully turns and wraps her arms around him and presses her head to his chest. She is correct. She is all of us, in that moment. She carpe’d his diem, and I hope she nuzzled the shit out of it.
16. “We Go Together”
“We Go Together” is such a wah-waah moment for me after “You’re The One That I Want.” I’m in such a good mood when that song is ending, and then it’s like… wait, are we still here? Are we still singing? It’s over. Go home.
They perform it in the golf carts that take them from the gym set all the way back across Warner Bros. to the school exterior, where they have the carnival set up. And it’s a total party, whee, everyone’s rockin’ out in the tour carts…
… until THIS DUDE nearly kills Wendell Pierce. Yes, what you are seeing here is the driver hitting a curb and the cart nearly toppling over, coupled with fear on Wendell’s face. They lived, but man, that would have been SENSATIONAL, except for the injuries and death. LIVE TV INDEED.
And here is the carnival set, where they finished out “We Go Together” and then went back into “Hand Jive” while everyone got to take their bows. You got the sense that the cast could’ve kept going for a few more hours. I LOVED seeing everyone get a curtain call — all the featured extras first, then the minor roles, then the majors. Didi Conn and Barry Pearl did theirs in T-Bird and Pink Ladies jackets; his might even have been the original. It felt like an exuberant and jubilant ending to an ambitious and accomplished production.
I even didn’t mind the peeks backstage at the commotion, used as bumpers into commercial breaks. Part of what made this work was its scope, and those little bits and bobs underscored that. Show off what you’re doing, I say. Once you watch the actors hustle around from stage to stage, and then the broadcast begins anew and they’re composed and calm and exactly where they’re supposed to be even though it’s only been eight weeks of rehearsal, it gives you a hearty respect for what they’re pulling off. Brag it up, y’all. You earned it.
Fuggery: 2 out of 10. I thought the costumes were all great. Except for Cha-Cha’s, which Las Vegas threw up.
Fromage: 9 out of 10. It’s Grease. It is a giant wheel of fromage. But Rizzo gets me every time. “But to cry in front of you, that’s the worst thing I could do.” Who hasn’t felt like that? Hell, I felt like that the other DAY, probably.
F*ckwittery: 10 out of 10. I mean, come on, Sandy. He lettered in track for you! HE CHOSE HEALTH! Don’t let him off the freaking hook jus because Rizzo backcombed your hair and bought you some Candies and a pair of running tights.