After watching Fox's Grease: Live on Sunday night, I would like to send a message to any cast member of the production if they ever stumble across this blog.
It wasn't your fault. I saw the payoff of all the time and energy you put in. You're tremendously talented. The singing and dancing was as good as it gets. The fact that I didn't like the overall presentation isn't your responsibility in the least.
The fault for the complete blunder that was Grease: Live rests solely with the producers, and for one reason only: the completely bone-headed decision to include, and outright remake, scenes from the 1978 movie.
This interpretation couldn't decide if it wanted to be a broadcast of a live stage show, or a shot-for-shot remake of a movie.
I was 8 years old when Grease was first in theaters. The movie holds a magical place in my heart and soul like most movies I saw around the time I was that age do.
So, it would be super easy for me to sit here, be a complete bitch and say, "Well, it's not as good as the movie and those actors are no John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John."
A lack of being open to actors of today and new interpretations was not my problem with Grease: Live. My problem is that the producers and the director didn't seem to be interested in new interpretation.
Grease: Live stayed so close to moments from the movie that it left the actors very little room to breathe or create their own sense of character.
Vanessa Hudgens certainly sang well as Rizzo, but most of the time, I felt she was directed to play the role as Stockard Channing played Rizzo instead of being allowed to play it her own way. Hudgens even seemed to be mimicking the very distinctive walk/strut Channing had in the movie!
I don't think that was Hudgens' fault. Granted, I wasn't a fly on the wall during the production and I don't know what her choices were.
However, there is always a director steering the ship, and a good director will help an actor make a role his or her own. To my eyes, it sure looked like the director wanted Hudgens (and others) to play as close to the movie as possible.
Check the scene at the drive-in movie, where almost all the business between Aaron Tveit and Julianne Hough as Danny Zuko and Sandy -- right down to timing, how an elbow hits and where a hand tries to grope -- are almost note for note what Travolta and Newton-John do in the movie.
What makes this seeming lack of interest in changing things up even stranger is that some of the dialogue preceding it was original and includes one of the most interesting alterations for this production: having Sandy cut out of the dance because she was afraid of her parents catching her on TV, as opposed to the movie, where a drunk Sonny yanks her away from Danny.
The use of scenes that were put into the original movie to "open it up" from the stage show don't work when they're put into the live TV context. A prime example is the "cap" to a sequence where Zuko tries different sports to turn jock and impress Sandy.
The "cap" to those moments on-screen with Travolta and Newton-John is given time for nuance and sensitivity. It's very sweet. Here, in this live TV version where time is of the essence and everything needs to be "fast, fast, fast", there is no room for that kind of depth. As a result, Danny and Sandy reuniting falls completely flat.
Beyond that, is the very adult scene with Kenickie and Rizzo in the back of "Greased Lightning" at 'Lover's Lane' (written specifically for the movie) such a beloved moment that it needed to be re-made and included? Did we need to see the preceding scene with the horny T-Birds hanging out below Frenchy's window?
My reference of those two scenes has nothing to do with conservatism. This production was so exact at times that I'm actually disappointed they didn't re-make the "mooning" at the dance; some fresh tush would have been nice!
It's just that these inclusions don't seem necessary or out-right don't make sense, like the re-use of the movie's climactic drag race. The scene bears none of the tension found in the movie because it has to be "implied" through lighting and well chosen camera angles for "live TV."
Another editorial mis-step of sticking close to the movie was especially glaring during the close of "Summer Nights", where the homage to the '78 "split screen" was made illogical by the fact that during this live version, Danny and Sandy are clearly standing feet apart from each other in a gymnasium.
It appears they were using multiple locales throughout the studio lot for this production. During the dance contest, they actually kept the movie version's cutaways to "Vi the Waitress" watching the dance on TV. So why couldn't Danny and Sandy be in two different places, and cutaways used, for "Summer Nights"?
While the big numbers like "Greased Lightning", the dance-off, and the grand closers, "You're the One That I Want" and "We Go Together" all had the requisite excitement and fun, I am very confused as to why we had to see the cast get on studio trams (talk about fourth-wall breaking) to get to the big carnival at the end. Couldn't the last fifteen minutes have been done completely on that carnival set?
Also, why exactly did three Boyz II Men equal one Teen Angel? I suppose I'm glad for some sense of shaking things up, but I don't 'get' that decision.
To today's kids who have never seen the movie or stage show, none of what I'm saying may matter at all. I have no problem with that. I am very happy if any kid out there watched Grease: Live and said, "Yeah - I want to do that too!"
Even so, there is no way this production made it to air without the producers thinking, "We have to put enough of the movie in here to keep an audience interested."
Why do that unless you think a majority of your audience is going to feel they are missing something, and if they're do feel that way, doesn't that mean they've seen the movie?
The producers backed themselves into a corner by not trusting more of the original stage show. While the structure is a little different, if they had used the stage show as the basis and merely tossed pieces of the movie in here or there, this interpretation of Grease likely would have stood out as more original, honest, and authentically its own entity.
I'm sure the producers wanted to see if they could create magic for today's younger generation by giving them their own Grease. I think all they did was prove just how wonderful and enduring the original movie is, and remains.