The Ultimate Live Television Musical: Fox's 'GREASE LIVE!'

When FOX announced their plans for GREASE LIVE! just ahead of NBC's The Wiz Live airing last year, I was skeptical: despite the fact that I think that this is a fantastic choice of musical for this medium, the whole concept came across as tacky and yet another lazy attempt at making this genre try to work, which I really don't think that it has done in the past.

I wasn't even intending on tuning in live last night but when promotional activity surrounding the broadcast picked up significantly just before the screening, I was intrigued again and oh my am I glad that I did. Not only was the broadcast itself breathtakingly phenomenal in their ability to make the overall production look professional, but the interactivity on Twitter with people live-tweeting the broadcast just like myself made live theatre an even more exciting experience than it was before.

I need to start by saying that I have a serious love/hate relationship with Grease as a show/movie. I do really enjoy it as a whole and I'd actually happily sit and watch the movie over and over again (the stage show not so much), but it's getting to the point now that I'm bored of seeing it be rehashed or redone by everyone and their mother. Grease Live! was a far cry from boring though: it became the perfect blend between the 1972 musical and the 1978 movie and instead of presenting itself as a "live musical" like NBC's broadcasts, it felt more like a live movie presentation - the term "television event" that they dubbed it as being was a pretty accurate description in my opinion. The whole piece is filmed over an elaborate 28-acre forest of soundstages and begins with Jessie J singing the opening number 'Grease (is the Word)' while walking through backstage and showing you the vastness of this production. We're then immediately thrown into an insane world of elaborate sets, quick changes and high-octane performances that had me dancing in my seat all night long and enjoying a musical on screen like I never had done before.

Let's start by talking about performances. Broadway alum and heartthrob Aaron Tveit took on the iconic role of Danny Zuko and was perfect. I think the thing that's so great about Tveit (rhyme!) is that he is very clearly a genuinely nice guy and that radiates through this performance just like it should; you're supposed to feel uncomfortable along with Sandy when he acts like an absolute douche, and he managed to do this perfectly. Combine that with his slick look, killer dance moves and sexy voice: you have yourself some perfect casting. I think perfect casting also came along in the shape of Julianne Hough who played Sandy. I was surprised to see that someone who is known for  being so edgy could play such a timid and likeable character on screen; her performance was subtle, which I think works for the character, and her performance of Hopelessly Devoted to You was incredible. As for High School Musical alum Vanessa Hudgens, who is all too familiar with the format of the Grease storyline; she was a class act through and through and even more so considering the circumstances (Hudgens found out her father had passed due to cancer just a matter of hours before the show went live). But the applause and praise for Hudgens' performances wasn't a matter of pity: it's very clear that Betty Rizzo was the perfect character for her aesthetic. She embodies this righteous-yet-insecure diva with beauty and her performance of There Are Worse Things I Could Do was the 11-o'clock number we were all wishing for. The supporting cast were also incredible: Carly Rae Jepsen's Frenchie didn't always ring well with me when it came to her loveable attitude, but it was pleasant enough to watch and it seemed to work for her in moments that were solely focused upon her; and Carlos PenaVega made a nice Kenicke to Hudgens' Rizzo, but it was a shame he didn't get as much screentime. I think the real star of the show though was - very surprisingly to me - Keke Palmer as Marty. I really thought that Keke Palmer was going to be swaying in the background for this broadcast and wouldn't have much to be doing at all, but I was delighted to see that they turned the often forgotten Freddy, My Love into this beautiful huge number near the start of the show. The presentation was amazing from Palmer herself along with the set and costume changes to this new, inspired idea - that, for me, was the best part of the entire broadcast.

I touch a point there that I think really is what makes Grease Live! the best live television broadcast that's been done so far: the production values. Just the slick set changes alone (the entrance into Beauty School Dropout is an example) and the costume changes (in Freddy, My Love for example) were enough to sell this show to me as something incredible. Not only that but you had full school building exteriors, a corridor with walls that moved to reveal what lies behind, a full car race scene, a full fairground outside - everything about it was so big and inviting that I felt like I was being welcomed into the world of Grease. The way it cut from soundstage to soundstage and how it was filmed in general was also unbelievable - I was questioning how on Earth they managed to film it so fantastically considering it's a live broadcast! The costumes by Tony-winner William Ivey Long (#legend!) were just incredible too and it added to this overwhelming sense of "wow, this really is a genuinely good go at doing this well". On top of this, it was so great to have a live audience be involved as extras in the show to fill those awkward silences that are normally present in these live broadcasts - it felt so much more real and live. The whole production overall was full on an incredible of energy, so the combination of this energy-fueled performances and a live audience made for a perfect production of this classic family favourite.

I honestly think that this is the best attempt at making this genre work that we've seen to date. I've already watched it twice and I intend on watching again, while I've been listening to their cast album solidly ever since it was released. Grease is back on the map with this new and exciting version for everyone to enjoy, and it's certainly made its way back into my heart. You can catch the UK official screening of Fox's GREASE LIVE! on ITV2 tomorrow evening (Wednesday Feb 3rd) at 8pm.

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