Grease has been at the top of many musical theater enthusiasts' wish lists for a live television broadcast since NBC resurrected the genre in 2013 with the Carrie Underwood-helmed (and famously reviled) The Sound of Music Live! About the 'opposites attract' love affair between 2 teens and their gang of classmates, Grease is a fluffy slice of Americana that's mischievous and subversive, yet enough fun for the whole family. Its songs and ever-popular 1978 film adaptation, starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, have propelled it to become the most-produced musical in the United States. Naturally, if NBC didn't make a move on it, another network would. With Grease: Live, FOX marked its first foray into the live musical theater event, and what a foray it was!
I have to start by acknowledging the wonderful team assembled by executive producer Marc Platt and the folks at FOX. Renowned casting director Bernie Telsey filled principal roles with a truly diverse mix of the brightest (and prettiest) young talent on television and Broadway. Julianne Hough, Aaron Tveit and even Vanessa Hudgens were not surprising selections for this project; they'd be on anyone's short list. Talent like Keke Palmer (a haughty and precocious Marty), Carlos Penavega (an adorably dim Kenickie) and singer Carly Rae Jepsen (a delightful, angelic Frenchy) were more inspired choices: famous and endowed by any definition, but not likely to be first thoughts for a piece set in a typical American high school in 1959. The casting of the "adults" was no less impressive. Ana Gasteyer, a proven comedic powerhouse, and Wendell Pierce, one of our most underrated actors, both have Broadway and musical theater credits. As a stage actor myself, I'm generally hard on performers in these projects, but I had real trouble finding a weak link in the cast. Hough and Hudgens were standouts as the show's leading ladies, Sandy and Rizzo, respectively. Hough oozed the greenness and earnestness her character required. When she launched into "Hopelessly Devoted to You" after Sandy is jilted by her beau, Danny Zuko (played with equal parts cocksure bravado and puckish boyishness by Tveit), one believes that a girl so innocent would respond to a perceived sleight with the passion and dramatics the song demands. Hudgens fabulously commanded her Pink Ladies squad and created near-tangible, white-hot chemistry with Penavega. Her rendition of "There Are Worse Things I Could Do" was the best vocal of the night. Other notable performances include Kether Donohue's unabashedly quirky Jan, Haneefah Wood's scene-stealing, gum-chewing school secretary Blanche, and Jordan Fisher's way-too-sexy-for-Doody vocals on "Those Magic Changes."