Grease Is The Word And New Standard
From the very moment it began with Jessie J. leading us through the dressing rooms and various backstage areas all while singing the anthem of the production, “Grease Is The Word”, it was one of the best televised musical events since the art form was created. So how did FOX managed to knock it out of the park on its first up at bat on a televised musical? Today, Luner on Theatre breaks down FOX’s first ever televised musical, Grease LIVE! and its massive success!
FOX destroyed the playing field last night launching their first ever televised musical, Grease Live!, winning over audiences and critics in a full-scale production none could argue easily raised the bar for all future televised musicals. From the moment it began, FOX reminded audiences wasn’t your typical theatrical production. Mostly because, it wasn’t happening in a theatre. This was Hollywood. We’re LIVE at Warner Brother Studios and we have got a ton of places to take you, they are all over the place and we’re not afraid to show you that. Let’s start with Jessie J’s parade, which covered an impressive number of steps, taking audiences right behind the scenes from the start. Consider it a “this is how we’re doing it” moment all while belting our some impressive vocals on the show’s title song. However, FOX managed to still create that theatre magic on-screen transporting us from location to location with ease, never shooting another camera man onto the live shot (Somehow with the incredible camera work) and only bringing us back to that television studio feel for the finale as an epic golf cart race took place into the finale.
As for its cast, FOX selected a great mix of well-known celebrity names (who can sing/dance because you kinda need that to be in a musical), Broadway veterans and a few newcomers as well. Led by Broadway veteran Aaron Tveit and two-time Dancing With The Stars champion Julianne Hough (Pictured Left), the two connected with ease and a fantastic chemistry only grew throughout the night. Both gangs featured well-known names as well including Keke Palmer, Carlos PenaVega, Vanessa Hudgens, Jordan Fisher and Carly Rae Jepsen to name a few. Working their magic as T Birds and Pink Ladies, both gangs appeared strong with fantastic personalities and character choices for roles we all already known so well. However, all the power wasn’t in the leading players. Broadway veteran Elle McLemore (Bring It On) for example played Patti Simcox and won over audiences repeatedly during her appearances. An ensemble of over 15 provided backup for musical numbers and scenes in the school where their presence was duly noted and actions accounted for.
FOX also managed to deliver in a category and now potential sore spot for NBC with a live studio audience. The audience, who appeared in many scenes through the three-hour event, not only brought to life that theatrical feel with real laughs and applause happening in real-time, but fueled the cast’s overwhelming enthusiasm to perform for actual people actually watching the show right before their eyes.
Let’s talk about the production values. Let’s begin with one word; Outstanding. FOX seemed to spare no expense when it came to making Grease Live a reality. Of course, producing the entire event on a television studio campus helped the show immensely. Multiple sets in various locations allowed for the show not only to flow smoothly but never made the audience sick of staring at the same old backdrop. Sliding walls to reveal new settings, such as the Principal’s office, and the full carnival setup on site speak volumes to FOX’s commitment to the production’s success. They were only supplemented by the outstanding costume design allowing cast members to change again and again with ease never drawing attention to the change that needed to take place many times before, after or during production numbers. One moment of technical brilliance that speaks to me was the drag racing scene between the Scorpions and T Birds (Pictured Above Right). The effects used to allow the cars to seem like they were racing, while never actually moving more than five feet, was brilliant and an excellent use of some old-fashioned television magic.
As for the onstage production value, Grease Live!’s direction and choreography delivered across the board. By far one of my favorite moments of the entire televised event was “Grease Lighting”! One of the best known numbers from the show, “Grease Lighting” was filled with fantastic vocals, over the top dancing and spectacular lighting. Working some serious camera magic, those behind the scenes easily worked in that new Grease Lighting car and quick changed the boys into costumes for the number without the audience even realizing what was happening. A new twist added onto the well-known all-boys musical number was an appearance by some ladies who whipped their hair and way through the number only adding more to the fantastic choreography and vocals already happening before audiences. The “Born To Hand Jive” sequence also was brought to life-like never before with outstanding dancing by Aaron Tveit and Julianne Hough setting a new bar for all future Danny and Sandy dance breaks. Hough put her Dancing With The Stars chops to the test making it look easy in her dress. I mean, did you see that kick she did?!
Perhaps one of the most important parts of the evening was when the production reinvented several classic moments into new stagings and imaginations of storytelling.One of the biggest during the production was “Freddie My Love” taking place on a runway in front of servicemen (Pictured Left). The same was done for some of the production’s choreography, which has become iconic and attached to the production since it’s inception. It is important because it reminds us about how we tell stories and how we further them passing them onto a new generation. While many would argue it wasn’t the same as the original, it wasn’t intended to be. This is a new Grease for a new generation. These new ideas and stagings will become classics to many just now introduced to the art form through this LIVE production. This Grease is a firm example that when your foundation is strong enough, anything can be built on top of it while still honoring the original idea and product.
FOX even managed to line up a slew of stars, making guest appearances, throughout the broadcast. Aside from Jessie J. who kicked off the entire event, Boyz II Men (Pictured Right) made an appearance performing the iconic “Beauty School Dropout”. Joe Jonas and his band DNCE were the onstage band for the National Bandstand Dance Competition working alongside well-known television personality Mario Lopez who essentially hosted the evening, giving us a look behind the scenes as commercial breaks began, right up until his on camera appearance. Of course we couldn’t forget to mention that FOX warmed hearts making Didi Conn, the original Frenchy from the Grease film, the waitress who lends Frenchy an ear and some advice before “Beauty School Dropout” begins. Pictured below is Didi Conn with current Frenchy, Carly Rae Jepsen.
And what about how FOX did with the critics and audience when it comes to just the facts? FOX managed to score 7.4/11 in metered market results and capture an audience of over 12 million people. That makes Grease Live! the second highest viewed televised musical since NBC began the tradition three years ago with The Sound of Music, which holds the record for most viewed. It also reportedly brought in 30% more viewers in the 18-49 age range than The Wiz Live did this past December.
Thank you to Kevin Estrada and FOX for all the photos used in this blog post!
FOX went above and beyond in its delivery of Grease Live! to audiences on television last night! They not only managed to set a new bar all televised musicals have to live up to but set a new standard of what audiences will be expecting when they tune in to see some of their favorite stage hits on the television screen. They couldn’t have mixed together better elements of musical theatre, live television, outstanding production quality and respect for the original story and product while forwarding it to a new generation with new takes on certain aspects of the storyline. FOX definitely has a lot to live up to later this year when they produce their second live televised musical, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, in the fall. But in the meantime, they can know they succeeded in what they intended to do and put Grease back into a special place it’s been missing from; the heart of Americans.