My sophomore year in high school I was in one of the first high school performances of Grease. I was just in the choir. It was your typical high school production, but it went over amazingly well with the audiences and we had to do like two extra productions because we kept selling out. Mainly because the guy playing Danny Zuko did this butt shaking thing (basically twirking long before twirking was a thing) during “Greased Lightnin” that literally had girls screaming and flailing in the aisles. It was a fun show.
Then my freshman year in college we did Grease. I didn’t audition to be in it, but the director, Dr. Bob, asked me to be the back stage manager. Than halfway through rehearsals the kid who was cast as Eugene quit because he didn’t want to be type cast as a nerd. So I stepped in to play Eugene. I think out of all the roles I have ever played I had the most fun with that one. Dr. Bob kept telling the cast to just go big and do more….well except for me. Me, well he kept telling me to quit upstaging everyone. Just to let you know I never did quit upstaging them. In fact I think during the dance scene I added like a dozen lines. My favorite moment was when Eugene is dancing with Cha Cha….we worked our way to center stage and Julie, the gal playing Cha Cha planted my face right in her chest, Every night I would bring my face out of there with a dorky smile that grew each night as did the audience laughter.
A couple of years later, I got a call from one of my High School teachers that they were redoing Grease there and he wanted me to come help them design a different set. So I went and helped them with that. So I went back and helped with that.
Then when I was working in housing at a university in North Dakota, the theatre professor asked me if I was willing to do Vince Fontaine for their production of Grease. Naturally I jumped at the chance. This director didn’t let me try to steal the show, but I still had fun and even if the show was not the best due to some serious miscasting.
Needless to say I have a lot of love for the show Grease. So naturally last year when Fox announced they were going to do a “live” production of it, I was excited but very afraid. I mean come on NBC maybe had a ratings bonanza with their lie production of Sound of Music, but it was not good TV. And then there was that debacle of Peter Pan in 2014, which isn’t even a good show on stage let alone to do as a live production. And after this past December’s production of The Wiz, I was terrified. I mean the talent used during that how was awesome, but if anyone tries saying that was a good show, they are lying. It’s just that simple it sucked. And it mainly sucked because you can’t do live theatrical performances without an audience. Actors need the energy an audience brings. It’s just that simple.
Well gosh darned it if someone at Fox didn’t hear what I had to say. They added a live audience to their live production, and at least in my opinion (which we all know is the correct one), it made all the difference in the world!
So here are some quick thoughts on the show!
1. The corny opening bit that mimicked the movie wasn’t needed, but then Jessie J started singing “Grease” and I was in. It was also a fun way to let the audience in on just how large of a production it was going to be.
2. I wasn’t a gigantic fan of the re-writing of the script but I guess they wanted to make it a unique production, so okay go for it. But all of the little pop reference jokes seemed to fall a little flat. I don’t think it was necessary to mess with a script that has worked before.
3. Aaron Tveit and Julianne Hough were perfectly cast, well as long as we all are willing to extend our disbelief to watch a 32 year old guy and a 27 year old lady paly high school seniors. But remember Stockard Channing was 34 when she played Rizzo in the movie. And Olivia Newton-John was 30!
4. The vocals were right on. Maybe not perfect, but it was live and they were solid and strong. The NBC productions can’t say that.
5. Aaron Tveit is a great dancer, and a great singer. I wasn’t so sure about his acting before tonight. There were times I felt like he was dropping the character and just smiling at how much fun he was having. But then I realized that was actually just the cockiness of Zuko coming out. I’m becoming a big fan.
6. Vanessa Hudgens was amazing as Rizzo, which is not what I expected. I’m not a big fan of hers but she was solid. And when you add her professionalism on getting out there and giving that performance the day after losing her father to cancer. KUDOS Vanessa!
7. Mario Lopez needs to go away. I mean he was fine as Vince Fontaine, although I think others have done him better. But having him doing that cut away to commercials was unnecessary, distracting and annoying. I mean seriously dude is nothing but a “B” grade actor who has outlived his fifteen minutes.
8. Keke Palmer as Marty singing Freddy My Love was right on, and the staging with the costume changes and set changes was straight out of Broadway. Probably one of the best moments of the show.
9. Why was Jan Brady playing a rebellious shop teacher?
10. Jordan Fisher’s performance of Those Magic Changes was another high point of the show and again was well staged with the athletic try-outs of Zuko. That said Zuko in tight shorts with a mic pack on his butt was kind of distracting. He looked a little freakish.
11. I love me some Ana Gasteyer, but I’m not sure she was the perfect fit for the principal. She almost had to be too restrained and needed to be let loose. I blame the director because I never blame Ana.
12. I was pissed that they rearranged the placement of some of the songs, especially We GO Together. But it actually worked out well as the show ending instead of the lead in song to intermission…..basically because there wasn’t really an intermission.
13. I missed It’s raining on Prom Night….one of the funniest yet poignant original songs from the original show.
14. Loved them having Did Conn come back to give a new Frenchy some advice.
15. What the hell was that song they had Carly Rae sing as Frenchy? It was unnecessary and it didn’t fit with the rest of the music. Basically it sucked life out of that portion of the show.
16. I get it that everyone knows You’re the One That I Want. I get that almost every production since the movie came out uses that song. But guess what folks that song was written to give the movie a solid single and a shot at an Oscar for Original song. The real song that goes there All Choked Up is a better song. It’ more fun and it it’s more challenging for the performers. They should have used it.
Okay so those are my thoughts. What are yours?