While I still have some serious reservations about the queasily social/moral implications of what "Grease" is saying *, there is little doubt that, technically, Fox's "Grease: Live" blew NBC's rather timid, tentative attempts at the live TV musical out of the water (with apologies to Craig and Neil). In comparison, NBC's "The Sound of Music," "Peter Pan" (oy!) and "The Wiz" seem creaky and dated and, well, underwhelming.
"The Sound of Music" remains the ratings winner - with an average of 18.6 million viewers - but then it came on the scene with a genuine superstar in the lead, one with a huge following, Carrie Underwood. And I will forever be grateful to Craig Zadan and Neil Meron for introducing America to the original stage production of that Rodgers and Hammerstein show (so much better than the 1965 Robert Wise version, which was terribly Disney-fied).
"Grease: Live," on the other hand, was clearly based not on the original off-Broadway musical but the 1978 cartoonish film version, as adapted by the late Bronte Woodard. In terms of the new TV genre, it came in second with 12.2 million viewers but it also nabbed an impressive 4.3 rating with that all-important age group, 18 to 49 years old. And that matters.
Numbers aside, "Grease: Live," directed in tandem by "Hamilton's" Thomas Kail (who, I assume, oversaw the actors) and Alex Rudzinski (who handled the jaw-dropping technical accomplishments), worked as something of a new hybrid - part theater, part film, part reality TV and (like the original film) part cartoon - a creative mash-up that worked exhilaratingly well. "Grease: Live" became better and better as it progressed, seemingly topping itself at every turn, and outdid itself with a big, bang-up finish. When the cast appeared on camera for its version of the curtain call, a standing ovation was more than deserved. Bravo!
Julianne Hough was perfect in the role of Sandy, more age-appropriate than Olivia Newton-John who was 30 when she essayed the role in the '78 film, and while Broadway's Aaron Tveit was techically correct as Danny, at 33, he is way too old for the role - and looks it. Plus, it doesn't help that he's no John Travolta. Vanessa Hudgens, a young pro, managed to turn Rizzo into a sympathetic character, somehow outdoing her estimable predecessor, Stockard Channing. And Hudgens was outstanding in her two big numbers - although I personally had hoped that the producers of this version would have finally retired the cruel "Sandra Dee" number.
It just isn't funny, guys.
Kudos also to choreographer Zach Woodlee and his assistant Matthew Peacock (both from "Glee") who managed to equal Patricia Birch's outstanding dances for the original film, without imitating them at all.
Finally, a deep bow to Rudzinski's 13 - count 'em - 13 credited camera operators: Bert Atkinson, Keith Dicker, Randy Gomez, Will Gossett, Nathaniel Hayholm, Ron Lehman, Tore Levia, David Levishon, Adam Margolis, Rob Palmer, Brian Reason, Damien Tuffereau and Easter Xau, all of whom made maximum use of the legendary Warner Bros. backlot.
* My problem with "Grease": Sandy has to reimagine herself as a sexpot to win Danny. And what does he do? He simply dons a varsity sweater.
Seriously dated one-sided sexism.