Hopelessly Devoted: Grease & TV Musicals

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Aaron Tveit and Julianne Hough starred in Grease Live on Jan. 31. Image courtesy Vox.com.

Did I really have a choice of what I talked about this week? Of course not.

Grease Live aired last Sunday and over 12 million people watched Fox’s first-ever live musical – that’s the second-highest number for a televised musical ever (after The Sound of Music Live!).

Grease Live did some things that we haven’t seen before in NBC’s live musicals. The first, and in my opinion most important, of which is that they had a live audience. Finally, incredible numbers don’t fall flat or immediately cut to a commercial break – they get a genuine, natural reaction. Hamilton director Thomas Kail was at the helm of Rydell High and showcased flowing camerawork with long shots, like Jessie J singing “Grease (Is The Word)” while walking through the set.

The sets didn’t feel like they were set on stage. They were fully immersive, and the entire show felt more like the movie than a musical. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I haven’t decided yet.

The strongest part of Grease Live was, by far, the casting. Broadway.com boyfriend Aaron Tveit was stellar as Danny Zuko (thank you, Fox, for not stunt casting this role), complemented by Julianne Hough’s sweet Sandy. I also need to compliment how diverse this cast was, which was, unfortunately, something new to Grease. Using songs that were not in the movie (like “Freddy My Love” and “Those Magic Changes”) gave so much more depth to the otherwise cardboard Pink Ladies and T-Birds.

I need to clarify: Grease Live was a great step for televised theatre. But Grease is an awful story. The main message is “change who you are for a high school boyfriend.” That’s healthy, right?

NBC’s musical in the winter will be Hairspray, a show about a plus-sized girl in the ’60s who risks jail time to defend her black friends and ultimately ends up integrating a popular TV show, helps her mom accept herself, and gets the cute boy, all while loving her body. This has the potential to be miles ahead of Grease Live, but now, the production values have to be there. There is a new yardstick to measure by.

Let’s be real, though: as much as I dislike this story, I’m thrilled that musicals get to be in millions of homes. I’m thrilled that people will be exposed to theatre who maybe never would have been otherwise. And I will always, always watch these shows and support theatre. I hope that by getting this out of the way, it can open the door for shows with more substance.

Fox is also planning The Rocky Horror Picture Show, starring Laverne Cox (!!!!) as Dr. Frank N. Furter (!!!!!), for later this year. Oh yes.

The Grease Live cast recording is available now. The show is available for digital download now and will be released on DVD March 8.



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