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Grease Live (A PopEntertainment.com Music Video Review)

Grease Live!

Grease Live!

GREASE LIVE! (2016)

Starring Julianne Hough, Aaron Tveit, Vanessa Hudgens, Carlos PenaVega, Carly Rae Jepsen, Keke Palmer, Kether Donohue, David Del Rio, Jordan Fisher, Andrew Call,  Mario Lopez, Ana Gasteyer, Elle McLemore, Wendell Pierce, Eve Plumb, Haneefah Wood, Sam Clark, Didi Conn, Barry Pearl, Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer, Noah Robbins, Joe Jonas & DNCE, Jon Robert Hall, Jeremy Hudson, Boyz II Men, Jessie J, Jeannie Klisiewicz and Cailan Rose.

Screenplay by Robert Cary and Jonathan Tolins.

Directed by Thomas Kail.

Distributed by Paramount Home Video.  132 minutes.  Not Rated.

Right off the bat, there is some information that needs to be imparted about the video release of FOX-TV’s version of Grease Live!  Grease Live! is not a televised performance of the smash 1973 Broadway musical.  Instead, it is a live performance of the 1978 movie Grease, which was in many ways very, very different from the play.

Storyline, dialogue, musical styles, additional songs written specifically for the movie – all of these are here and accounted for from the film.  Sure, Grease Live! shakes things up occasionally – there are some added band performances to shoehorn in current bands like DNCE (featuring Joe Jonas) and “Hopelessly Devoted To You” is moved deeper into the story (which was easy enough to do, because this was one of the songs written for the movie).  Also, the cast is often allowed to riff and extend the dialogue from the original script, which at least partially explains how the performance goes almost two and a quarter hours.

The songs are also performed in the style of film, not the play.  Listen to the original cast recording of “Summer Nights” with Barry Bostwick, Adrienne Barbeau et al, and you’ll see how radically the movie changed up tempos and added to the pop sheen.

All of this is somewhat understandable.  Let’s face it, most people know Grease from the 1978 movie, not the original 1973 play.  Also, since the musical has returned to the boards in 1992 in London, most of the revivals in the last couple of decades did factor in at least some of the changes from the story and added the hit singles from the movie to the original score.

If they did the original play, people would be scratching their heads, saying “Where is ‘You’re the One That I Want,’ ‘Grease,’ ‘Sandy’ and ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You?'”  They’d be asking how the story went from Los Angeles to the inner city.  When did the T-Birds become the Burger City Boys?  Why is Danny taking Rizzo to the dance?  What are these songs “Alone at the Drive-In Movie” and “All Choked Up?” What happened to the race and the carnival?

So why not do an essentially verbatim live performance of the movie?  And, trust me, I’ve seen the movie dozens of times over the years and the dialogue here is nearly word for word.

Which brings up the most basic concern – what does Grease Live! bring to the party that the original movie, which is still widely watched, didn’t already offer?

On the plus side, the cast is somewhat more age-appropriate to the roles than the famously elderly high school students of the film.  (The actors playing the Pink Ladies and the T-Birds ranged from their late 20s to the 35 year-old Stockard Channing as Rizzo.)  Granted, the pop stars, theater vets and dancers playing the roles here are mostly too old to be in high school, too, but at least these kids are mostly in their early-mid 20s.

This problem is biggest up top.  The leads are played by dancer Julianne Hough (Dancing With the Stars, the remake of Footloose and the film version of Rock of Ages) and Aaron Tveit (The Les Misérables film, Graceland).  Sadly, the two leads – particularly Hough as Sandy – are perfectly fine as singers and dancers but rather bland actors.  (When you have been seriously out-acted in a role by Olivia Newton-John, perhaps you should reconsider your career choice.)  Tveit does a bit better, but seems to periodically slip in and out of a John Travolta imitation.

The stunt casting, which gives roles to pop stars and kids’ TV vets like Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical), Carlos PenaVega (Big Time Rush), Carly Rae Jespen (“Call Me Maybe”), Keke Palmer (True Jackson), Jordan Fisher (Liv & Maddie), Jessie J (“Bang Bang”) and Joe Jonas (The Jonas Brothers) – all of whom are just fine but few of whom stand out. It would be nice to have some more legitimate actors here.  For example, Kether Donohue (of the FX sitcom You’re the Worst) easily steals pretty much every scene she’s in as Jan, the youngest and nerdiest of the Pink Ladies.

There is also a savvy group of veteran actors and singers who pick up the slack, including Ana Gasteyer (Saturday Night Live), Wendell Pierce (The Wire), Eve Plumb (The Brady Bunch), Mario Lopez (Extra), soul group Boyz II Men and even Grease movie vets Didi Conn (Frenchie) and Barry Pearl (Doodie).  It’s particularly fun when Conn plays a scene up against her old character.

However, even if the acting doesn’t always quite hold up (and frankly, when was Grease ever thought as a thespian’s project), Grease Live! does have an energy and joie de vivre that is undeniable.  The dancing is lively and the music is also pretty damned perfect, even if the new Carly Rae Jepsen song “All I Need Is an Angel” doesn’t quite live up to the rest of the songs here.  A better example of a current song being updated for this show is Joe Jonas and DNCE’s surprisingly nifty fifties revamp of their current pop hit “Cake On the Ocean,” which was recorded for the soundtrack of the show, but did not make the cut for the broadcast.

Unfortunately, having originally run on network TV, some of the songs have to be given alternate “safe for broadcast” lyrics.  Not surprisingly, “Grease Lightning” is nearly unrecognizable (“You know without a doubt, I’ll be really making out in Greased Lightning,” indeed…), but even relatively harmless little bit like “Hey fongool,” a mangled Italian curse in “Look At Me I’m Sandra Dee” gets whitewashed.

Fact of the matter is, if you want to see the movie Grease, it is easily available.  It was a huge hit and has not been off the video market for any extended period of time since the first coming out on VHS in the early 1980s, and it certainly gets re-run on TV often enough.  However, Grease Live! is an energetic and fun new-millennial tribute to a pop culture classic.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2016 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 8, 2016.

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