The modern incarnation of the televised musical is known as much for the accompanying snark and commentary on Twitter as it is for the performances themselves. This past December, NBC’s “The Wiz Live” finally seemed to cut down on the critical (and let’s face it, sometimes mean) commentary by putting together a truly stunning production. Last night, in its inaugural live production, FOX’s “Grease: Live” seriously raised that bar again.
To say that “Grease: Live” greatly exceeded my own personal expectations would be a gross understatement. Those familiar with my feelings about “Grease,” which are nearly identical to those of my co-crusader’s (and here’s further evidence from last April when FOX first announced its foray into live musical broadcasts), know that no one is more shocked by this than me. NBC, take note, the gauntlet has been thrown down. This is what a live, televised musical can (dare I say should?) be.
FOX’s “Grease: Live” embraced its format, right from the beginning. I confess, I got a little misty-eyed as the camera pulled out from our lovebirds, Danny (Aaron Tveit) and Sandy (Julianne Hough) to follow Jessie J as she belted out the titular song while strutting through the incredible production set, complete with live audience.
The simplest, but best decision (pay attention, NBC) that was made was having a live audience. Was it a little strange that apparently the entire school showed up for cheerleading tryouts? Yes. But it’s a small price to pay for removing the awkward silence at the end of musical numbers.
NBC’s productions, though great in their own right, feel very isolated. The sense of community and shared experience in those cases has come from the online commentary, which is fun, but often divisive/distracting.
That’s not to say that “Grease: Live” wasn’t driving plenty of social chatter (as well as superior ratings to NBC’s “The Wiz” and “Peter Pan”), there was plenty of behind the scenes action to be had with social streaming in from Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and more. Still, you can’t beat that live audience. A simple, huge improvement.
Add incredible camera work (Not one ceiling shot or “oops! There’s a camera” moment), staging, choreography, talent, and you’ll seriously start to wonder what NBC has been doing these past three years.
I kid…sort of.
Speaking of talent, I owe someone an apology. In my defense, when it was first announced that Vanessa Hudgens would be playing the part of Rizzo, I was not alone in my terrified “High School Musical” visions.
She killed it. Seriously, let’s all take a moment to relive how incredible this was:
Now, the hard part, my one major critique (and it’s sort of small). Putting interesting choices regarding lyric changes (based on confusing, conflicting views of what’s politically correct) and a momentary loss of audio during the high school dance aside, the only questionable moment came just ahead of “Teen Angel” with a brand new song, “All I Need is an Angel,” sung by Frenchy (Carlie Rae Jepsen).
It’s a good song. It just feels like it got lost on its way to one of Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s other collaborations, “Next to Normal” and/or “If/Then.” It did not match the show and confused many viewers who were ready for “Teen Angel.”
Not to mention that if we’re going to give Frenchy a bonus song (which we still should), it should be one of transformation after her vision. Just sayin’. Next time.
Overall, I’m still wrapping my mind around all of the things that were done so phenomenally well in this live production. This sets expectations for FOX’s next musical endeavor, the highly anticipated (but not live) remake of “Rocky Horror,” even higher. And I am looking forward to seeing how NBC responds with next December’s “Hairspray” (a fitting, chronological response to FOX’s “Grease”).
That moment when we all got seriously concerned for the second golf cart…
…and immediately started googling Jordan Fisher…
…before immediately watching the season finale of “Galavant” of course…It was a good night for theater dorks…