Grease: Live (Movie Review)

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I’m gonna call this a movie even if it might be a TV special or whatnot. Because I mean… Wow! I first just watched this ‘movie’ recently as it’s taken some time for it to be available here in Denmark. This special really proves how absolutely wonderful Thomas Kail is, pulling this whole thing together and with so many weather and personal issues this production faced it’s a miracle it even happened, let alone be this good. This special features a wonderful performance by Vanessa Hudgens, great performances from Aaron Tveit, Jordan Fisher, and countless others, as well as a marveling piece of work by director Thomas Kail.

Playing Sandy Young (is that what they’re calling her now?) was Julianne Hough who was pretty good. I’ve seen better Sandys, but she was by no means bad, and she had really great onscreen (or onstage) chemistry with the rest of the cast. he also played the part well and really danced it well. The dance between her and Tveit was one of my biggest take-aways from the special. Hough sings really well too, which is evident in “Summer Nights”, but it seems the whole acting and singing combo overwhelmed her in “Hopelessly Devoted to You”. Playing opposite her is the golden boy of Broadway, Aaron Tveit playing Danny Zuko. He too is maybe not the best Danny, but has his handul of moments in the show: the dance, “Summer Nights”, and “Greased Lightning”. However much like Hough he falters while performing “Sandy”, which is not just his fault but also due to the fact that the song just isn’t very good. But he too is truly wonderful onscreen with the rest of the cast as well. The best actress however was no doubt Vanessa Hudgens. Her outrageously moving and powerful “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” made the second act, and made her character. And when you also consider her father’s passing the night before… Whew! was she fantastic. “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee” was also great and so were all of her scenes. I mean she truly was great and is probably the most deserving of that Emmy for best featured actress in a miniseries or movie (and I checked, she’s on the ballot).

Jordan Fisher, the fresh-faced Doody, also wowed with his sweet and charming “Those Magic Changes” and wonderful chemistry with his fellow actors, especially Carly Rae Jepsen. But that charming adaptation really caught me off track in a good way. Carly Rae Jepsen however was not very good. Probably the weakest link in the cast, she got her own song “All I Need Is An Angel”, which isn’t a great song and didn’t do well with Jepsen’s mediocre vocal either. All the close-ups of her face during “Beauty School Dropout”, made me despise her performance even more as she seemed to overlook the absurdity that the song is centered around. Keke Palmer gets her chance t shine as Marty, and damn does she take it. Her song, “Freddy, My Love” rocked the first act with the cool Dream Girls meets Chicago theme. She also acts and dances well, but it was really her singing during that one number that made me notice her, because wow was her rendition of the song new, inventive, and powerful. Carlos PenaVega played Danny’s best friend Kenickie, and despite half of “Greased Lightning” being taken away from him he still managed to grab a few moments in which he could shine. But those moments were fairly minimal despite the fact he’s supposed to be the tertiary if not quaternary lead.

Kether Donohue played the food-loving Jan in one of the best and most charismatic Jan performances I’ve ever seen. She was charming, quick, and likeable which is everything her character is supposed to be and she seemed absolutely fine with a few jokes at her expense. David Del Rio plays Putzie, the lame replacement for Roger, is okay but only really shines when he’s onscreen with Donohue. Then there’s Andrew Call who has his few les as Sonny, who seems to be thrown away. Mario Lopez rocks his brief cameo as Vince Fontaine with his quick-wit and past-paced dialogue and his creepy maneuver. Ana Gasteyer played the boisterous principle and did so very humorously and entertainingly. Joe Jonas was decent singing “Born to Hand Jive” and Boyz II Men were okay (at best) singing “Beauty School Dropout” and Jessie J sounded decent singing “Grease (Is the Word)”. Wendell Pierce was funny and charming as Coach Calhoun. Elle McLemore was a little too much as Patty Simcox, but whew! Noah Robbins was spectacular as Eugene Felsnick, absolutely hilarious, charming, and amazing. Whenever you watch an ensemble musical there’s always that one ensemble actor or actress who you keep noticing, and for me that was Chris Meissner who was always on-point.

The show rearranged pretty much the whole show and added and replaced characters very liberally. The majority of all these changes were well placed and worked perfectly. Most notably was the use of “Those Magic Changes”, which featured as a clever underscoring to Danny Zuko’s character development. There were however a few awkward changes, the most notable being the exchange of “Alone at a Drive-in Movies” to “Sandy” which in my point switched out a good song for a not-so-good one. There was also the awkward addition of the Frenchie song which was not a great song and which finished seconds before “Beauty School Dropout” began. This ‘film’ seemed to lean more towards the original film rather than the stage adaptation, which is just proven by the exchange of the fun Roger to the just-there Putzie. The addition of DNCE’s remodeled “Cake by the Ocean” was also clever and well-done. The musical has never been one my favorites and although the remodeling didn’t fix every aspect, it did improve quite a handful of them.

The direction and choreography of the show was absolutely stunning with large numbers like “Greased Lightning”, “Born to Hand Jive”, and “Summer Nights” have such uptempo and clever choreography. The direction too was splendid with such seemingly easy and smooth transitions between scenes, songs, and set. Kail really outdid himself with this spectacular. The sets and costumes also looked stunning. I especially loved the set of “Freddy, My Love” where the song transitions into a vaudeville themed song with such an edgy and creative transition. The car racing scene was also very impressively done and even if I’m still not entirely sure how they did it, I still think it’s pretty darn impressive. Another aspect I enjoyed was the casual opening and closing numbers where it seemed like a very clever concert, which was fairly appropriate even if I think it was a waste of an opening and closing song they were well done.

So overall this film should be watched if you are a fan of Grease or musicals in general. Thomas Kail’s direction and Vanessa Hudgens’ performances were really the standouts, while a strong supporting cast backed it up very well. The show was well rearranged even if it wasn’t all perfect, there was some great moments that otherwise haven’t featured in Grease adaptations.

Best Aspect- Thomas Kail and Vanessa Hudgens

Worst Aspect- Carly Rae Jepsen

Raing- 7.7/10 or C+

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