Sunday, January 31, 2016

We Go Together: My Thoughts on GREASE: LIVE

I love Grease.

I love Grease in all forms.

Each form it takes makes sense for that form: the Broadway production led to the movie, which led to revivals, which led to a reality show, and now we have Grease: Live on FOX.  The show is moving forward linearly.  Jacobs and Casey wrote this show; Woodard and Carr took that play and added on to make the film.  In that same vein, Grease: Live took what came before it, and added on to make a brand new Grease.

Do I necessarily want to see the movie changes on stage?  Not at all.  I understand why you would add the movie songs, but it still irks me.  You can't just throw "Hopelessly Devoted To You" in there randomly; there are only a handful of spots that make sense; and "Grease is the Word" makes no sense at all and musically does not fit within the realm of the show.  "You're the One That I Want" has the same problem, though the 2007 revival made it work better with different orchestrations.

All this being said, I absolutely enjoyed Grease: Live.  There were changes made that I wasn't the biggest fan of, but for the most part, I loved it.  It upped the game for what these live, televised musicals need to be.  The biggest reason: A LIVE STUDIO AUDIENCE!  Stage acting and film acting are two very different worlds, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.  You saw this with Peter Pan: Live and Christopher Walken and Carrie Underwood in The Sound of Music: Live.

Let's take care of the things I didn't like, so I can spend more time focusing on the good.
  • Joe Jonas and DNCE as Johnny Casino and the Gamblers.  The cameras never spent more than a second or two on them.  You could have hired a better band, and more engaging singers that would have known the lyrics to "Mooning", even if it was only a second.  
  • The new songs.  The two new songs written for the dance scene were mediocre at best, and just random ("Cake by the Ocean"?  WTF?).  I loved the idea of giving a Frenchy a song, but "All I Need Is An Angel" did not mesh with the rest of the show at all, and Jepsen was a bit lackluster compared to how she sounds on the Soundtrack recording (yes, I already have it, don't judge). 
  • Mario Lopez was just bleh.  He wasn't charismatic enough to play Vince Fontaine, and was almost too creepy with Marty.  
  • Tom Chisum looked older than Danny, so I don't want to hear bitching about Tveit being too old.
  • Making Sandy from Utah, and changing her last name.  If anything, they should have kept Olson from the movie if they weren't going to use Dombrowski.  I kept wondering if the reason she was so buttoned up was she might've been Mormon. 
  • Other minor things that escape me right now.
Things I'm on the fence about
  • Keke Palmer as Marty.  At times she appeared to be doing an Eartha Kitt impression, and a lot of her dialogue felt forced and trivial.  I adored "Freddy My Love" and the costume change that accompanied it (velcro sounds and all), but her character was rough to me.
  • Boyz II Men just didn't wow me like I thought they would.  Wonderful job, but the song needed more punch than they were able to give.   
Now, the longer list of things I enjoyed.

  • I love that they fleshed out Patty and Eugene even more.  They are often treated as throwaway characters, and played as caricatures.  While that still happened to an extent, there was a much richer inner life I was witnessing.  Also, HILARIOUS!!!
  • Kether Donohue and David Del Rio as Jan and Putzie.  Wonderful chemistry, great humor both individually and together.  If they had kept "Mooning" in, I know they would have killed it.
  • Andrew Call killed it as Sonny: funny, smarmy, yet still able to get the girl.
  • This is the one a lot of people will disagree with me on, but I loved Carly Rae Jepsen.  I didn't like her song, but I really thought she did a good job as Frenchy.  Her scene with Didi Conn made me shed a tear, and she didn't try to emulate Conn.
  • DIDI CONN AND BARRY PEARL.  I was doing fine until they came out to bow, and had their original T-Bird and Pink Ladies jackets on.  Then, I was a mess.  No clue why, but that one little thing just made the whole show for me. 
  • Ana Gasteyer and Blanche.  Hilarious, and knew how to work the crowds.
  • Jordan Fisher as Doody.  "Those Magic Changes" is my song, and I had extremely high expectations when it was announced it was included in the broadcast.  Character wise, fantastic.  Performance wise, exquisite.  The song wasn't overproduced nor oversung.  It was kept simple, and effectively used to further the story.  He was absolutely wonderful.
  • Carlos PenaVega, Julianne Hough, and Aaron Tveit were all on the same level here.  Wonderful work, great singing, strong characters, and, most importantly, they made these characters their own.  I didn't want to see Jeff Conaway, Olivia Newton-John, and Travolta up there.
  • Last, and certainly not least, was the one who surprised me: Vanessa Hudgens.  I was apprehensive about her from the very start because she seemed more of a Sandy than a Rizzo.  High School Musical and Gigi didn't do her any favors in making her seem bad-ass.  She made this part her own, and made Rizzo the feisty, sensual, bad-ass bitch we all wanted and never knew we needed.  The fact that she delivered after her father dying less than 24 hours before broadcast is both brave and heartbreaking.
I've listed the good, the mediocre, and the bad.  But there was one thing that made this entire show for me tonight.  Thomas Kail, of Hamilton fame, actually understood what the show was about and made it work.  You may ask what Grease really is about, if not Danny and Sandy.  Morons.  The show is about this community of friends/classmates/gang members/what have you.  They don't come from great homes, they aren't good students necessarily, and who knows what the future may have in store for them.  All they have is each other and the time they have together.  ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY said it very simply in their review tonight:
             It helps, I think, that Grease: Live clearly understands that this platonic saga of basically
             good badasses and basically nice mean girls is an ensemble piece.

I'm tired of watching productions where all the focus is on Danny and Sandy while the rest of the BPBs and Pink Ladies are just set dressing.  If you really read the script, Sandy is really quite boring until the end.  All the other characters are much more interesting to follow, and really have the better songs.  

In following posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, the most common complaint about the broadcast was portrayals of the characters: people wanted to see Stockard Channing, John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, etc.  They wanted what was familiar to them, and got hostile when that didn't happen.  But I consider them morons for expecting that.  The film happened in 1978, and it is archived.  We have those wonderful performances on tape/dvd/etc.  I went into this not wanting a recreation of the film.  That's not original, nor is it beneficial to the art form.  Theatre (and film) are constantly changing and evolving.  What was powerful in the 70's wouldn't have the same impact today.  That's why I consider Grease: Live a success.  I loved it, I will be buying it on DVD, and I will gladly watch it again and again.