If you ever notice a guy walking around campus every day with a Pink Ladies pin on, that’s me. FOX sent it to me about two weeks ago, along with a press package/treasure chest of other Grease goodies, as a reminder of its Grease: Live musical it aired last Sunday. I ate all the popcorn and cotton candy and gave away a couple of flags and t-shirts, but the Pink Ladies pin is mine. It’s sleek and it’s pink and pink’s my favorite color. That’s all there really is to it. Plus, it emblematizes my love for what I consider to be the best of the best when it comes to American musicals.
Now, I know, that’s a bold and arguable claim. But in this case, it’s personal. I can’t thoroughly argue that Grease is the technically best musical out there, but for me, it’s funky, it’s funny, and I grew up watching it. No show tune could possibly match Frankie Valli’s “Grease” theme. It’s not possible. “Grease” exudes rock-solid coolness and suavity. “Grease is the way we are feelin‘.” That’s all that needs to be said on the song and, really, the movie’s account.
So when I received this press package from FOX, I actually got kind of excited. I say, “actually,” because I’ve been skeptical of and disappointed by the string of live musicals that NBC has broadcasted over the last couple of years. To quote Brian Lowry’s Variety review of Carrie Underwood’s The Sound of Music Live!, “the actual production too often felt as lifeless as [its] alpine backdrops.” Some might find this a bit over-dramatic, but honestly, I fully agree with Mr. Lowry. It’s not that Carrie Underwood didn’t sing well or that the sets and props were atrocious. Everything felt so stiff. It seemed like everyone was uncomfortable trying to make the production as great as they wanted it to be, which came off as overdone and inauthentic.
When Peter Pan Live! came around next, I thought my ears would start bleeding at the sound of Christopher Walken’s pirate shanties. Apparently making the jump from singing in Hairspray to prancing about as Captain Hook was a bit too much for the beloved actor. And don’t get me wrong, I love Christopher Walken, but try watching an excerpt from Peter Pan Live! without curling over in tears, laughing at the monstrosity of a performance that unfolds before you.
With these two examples in mind, I was shocked to find myself intrigued by FOX’s Grease: Live. Maybe it was the fact that I actually enjoy Grease, whereas I’m pretty indifferent toward The Sound of Music and a musical Peter Pan. I didn’t know any of the cast members for Grease: Live except for Vanessa Hudgens, and I was pretty indifferent toward her, too. Nevertheless, last Sunday came and, as the day went on, my hopes for Grease: Live actually got pretty high.
That is, until the show started. At that point, I realized my fatal mistake. The worst part was, I should have seen it coming.
I’ve seen Grease with John Travolta upwards of 10 times. I don’t put it on very often because seeing it more than ten times is realistically a large enough fill of Grease for a lifetime, but when I haven’t seen it for awhile and I think about watching it, I embellish to myself how much I actually like watching it. It’s never as satisfying as I remember it, which is sad, but it’s true.
The other thing I forgot was I don’t like renditions of Grease. I’ve seen stage productions of it twice and both times nothing felt engrossing or fleshed out with the same tone and authenticity as the movie is. The actors in both stage productions didn’t break past the point of being actors. I wasn’t watching Danny Zuko strut around “Greased Lightning.” I was watching some guy do his best Danny Zuko impersonation.
And that’s exactly what happened with Grease: Live. It didn’t own Grease’s essence at all. Full of “live television” gimmicks and unnecessary celebrity cameos (except for the original Frenchie as the waitress at the diner), Grease: Live was a plastic, lifeless imitation of an American classic. Every line felt like it was spewed from a 1950s dialectic robot with a jammed on/off switch.
Renditions of Grease are supposed to revive a sensibility. They’re supposed to exhibit, to quote Frankie Valli, “the time, the place, and the motion.” But, at least for me, Grease: Live didn’t have the groove and it didn’t have the meaning.
Featured Image By Paramount Pictures