8 Things We Loved About Grease: Live & Two Major Problems

Photo: Kevin Estrada/FOX.
When production and rehearsals for Grease: Live began, it was clear that this wasn't going to be like the other live musicals that have graced our TVs in recent years. Not only did Jessie J sing "Grease" while giving us a tour of the set weeks before the January 31 air date, but Vanessa Hudgens was there recording cell phone video with her fellow Pink Ladies. These are big stars, huge on social media, who need no introduction. Though Grease is a show about conformity — Sandy's big revelation is that she needs to be more like everyone else — Fox made a point not to conform to previous, at times awkward, attempts to bring musical theater favorites to a mass TV audience.

The broadcast, directed by Thomas Kail (of Hamilton fame), was kinetic and joyful. The cast fed off the energy of the live audience. The camera swung around to show off the excellent choreography. Grease: Live was ultimately more cinematically ambitious than the NBC musicals that came before it, but was also delightfully aware of the fact that putting on a live musical is inherently a semi-ridiculous undertaking. It was as technically challenging as it was self-aware and silly.

Look, it wasn't perfect. Frenchy's new song was a drag, even though it meant we got a Carly Rae Jepsen solo. (Still love you, Carly!) Aaron Tveit's Danny Zuko left something to be desired. The sound went out at a really inopportune moment. A golf cart carrying cast members during the finale nearly tipped over.

It was still a great evening of TV. Here are some of our favorite parts.

"Freddy, My Love"
Keke Palmer's Pink Lady Marty enjoyed a big moment with this number, which was taken from the Broadway show. Palmer had been gnawing the scenery, so I was wary when she began to sing. As soon as she did, I forgave her previous sins. The song also featured one of the coolest bits of stagecraft of the night, with the bedroom scene transforming into a fantasy USO show. There were quick changes galore, and it all went off seamlessly. It was the first sign of the night that we were in for something truly innovative.

"Greased Lightnin'"
It's still unclear whether or not they actually sang "dragon wagon" as opposed to "pussy wagon," which would have been one of the oddest lyric changes in history. Who cares, though, when Kenickie (Carlos PenaVega) and Danny (Tveit) are rolling and writhing all over the place.
Aaron Tveit's Hair
It reached death-defying heights.

Double Your Frenchy, Double Your Fun
No, there were no surprise appearances from Olivia Newton-John or John Travolta. (Though Travolta did show up in the commercial breaks in ads for The People v. O.J. Simpson to remind us of the depressing passage of time.) But I doubt anything could have been better than the sweet scene between Frenchys past and present. Didi Conn, who played Frenchy in the 1978 movie, took on the role of diner waitress Vi. And who was by Jepsen's side after that whole pink hair incident? Why, the original Frenchy. Once Conn left the scene, Jepsen launched into the disappointing song "All I Need Is an Angel," and her angels appeared in the form of Boyz II Men. I could have done without the cringe-worthy "hooker" lyric, but the rest was spectacular.
The Dance
Pretty much everything about the Rydell school dance deserves the highest praise. (Maybe not Joe Jonas, whose band DNCE performed.) The choreography was inspired, and the camera was able to capture all of its intricacy. Sure, we know Julianne Hough can dance — and she killed it as expected — but Hudgens also hit every step, including a particularly raunchy bit during the "Hand Jive." During the competition portion of the sequence, the show cleverly cut to black and white to show what an actual National Bandstand broadcast might have looked like, and in a particularly meta moment, the audience saw Vi watching the event on TV.

I even felt better about the presence of Mario Lopez at the big shebang. The IRL TV host played fictional TV host/predator Vince Fontaine. When he cut to commercial break as Vince and the show actually went to a commercial break, I was totally tickled.
The MVPs: Doody, Jan & Patty Simcox
All the leads were solid, but my favorites ended up being some of the minor characters. First off: Jordan Fisher as Doody. As soon as he appeared on-screen, I wondered who that adorable T-Bird in the glasses was. By the time he strummed a guitar while singing "Those Magic Changes," I was 100% Team Doody. Also, Doody is just a really funny name to say/write.

Jan is definitely the most under-appreciated Pink Lady. Unlike Frenchy or Rizzo, she doesn't really have much of a story line to herself, other than a running, dated fat joke. Still, Kether Donohue (of You're the Worst, which you really should be watching) made Jan a star. Every time Donohue was captured on camera, she was doing something excellent.
Also deserving of props: Elle McLemore as excitable cheerleader Patty Simcox and Noah Robbins as nerd Eugene.

The Grown-Ups: A.K.A. That Was Jan Brady
Yes, Grease is all about the kids. Well, kind of kids. Most of the stars are pushing 30. But the adults were not to be underestimated. Ana Gasteyer gave Rydell's Principal McGee a touch of Bobbi Mohan-Culp magic, reminding everyone why she's one of SNL's most underrated alums. She was matched for comedic excellence by Haneefah Wood as the dance-crazed, bra-losing Blanche.
Oh, and did you realize that Mrs. Murdock was played by Eve Plumb — a.k.a. the original Jan Brady from The Brady Bunch?

"There Are Worse Things I Can Do"

Hudgens absolutely nailed her rendition of "There Are Worse Things I Can Do," Rizzo's epic anti-slut-shaming ode, and the moment was one of particular triumph considering her father died just the night before.

But regardless of what she had to contend with, Hudgens was also flat-out excellent. She may have gotten her start doing High School Musical, but she's a big league musical theater talent. She proved that last year by doing Gigi on Broadway, and now by putting her own stamp on a classic character.

Also, not to be disregarded? Her wonderfully bitchy take on "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee."
The Carnival
Um, I want to go!

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