Fox’s Sunday night, live three-hour production of “Grease Live” drew the best ratings for a musical since NBC’s “Sound of Music Live” in December 2013. Starring “Dancing With the Stars” darling Julianne Hough and Broadway and Les Miserables actor Aaron Teveit in the roles popularized in the 1978 film version by Olivia-Newton John and John Travolta, the show averaged 12.81 million viewers.
Sunday’s live musical is Fox’s second highest-rated night of entertainment programming (non-sports) of the season in 18-49 (behind the night of the “Empire” season premiere), and its largest overall audience for any night this season (eclipsing the 11 million for the premiere of “American Idol”).
Audio glitches interrupted co-star Julianne Hough’s big solo number, “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” as well as a complete loss of sound during “Hand Jive.” A Southern California downpour forced cast members to carry umbrellas during outdoor scenes, filmed on a Warner Brothers backlot. The worst part of the whole show was the lighting choices which kept actors out of their spots and made you wish for spotlights.
The dance numbers wow’d with energy, vitality and panache. The acting and the charisma level were a little lacking. Most of the actors seemed in different productions and Hough and Teveit have no sexual chemistry to speak of, which is vital to the show.
The hit of the show was “High School Musical” and Broadway’s Gigi, Vanessa Hudgens as the bruised, tough-talking Rizzo. She was wonderful in the role and sang a heart rending version of “Worst Things I Could Do.” Going on live TV hours after her father Gred Hudgens died of Cancer, makes us love her all the more. She proved herself to be a true performer in every sense of the word. The actress dedicated her performance to her dad, as Fox paid tribute to him during the closing credits. Even Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the Broadway smash Hamilton, was impressed by her work and tweeted about it.
Keke Palmer’s big, engrossing performance of “Freddy, My Love” was fun and those costumes by William Ivey Long were fast changing.
In smaller roles Jordan Fisher, stood out as Doody, as did Haneefah Wood as Principal McGee’s beleaguered assistant Blanche.
Thomas Kail, director of Broadway’s Hamilton handled the stage direction, with Alex Rudzinski, the director of Dancing with the Stars. doing the live broadcast direction. The production spanned a 20-acre location, with multiple indoor and outdoor sets. Talent traveled by golf carts.
It was touching as Frenchy (Carly Rae Jepsen) gets career advice from old Frenchy (Didi Conn, from the 1978 movie, playing a waitress this time). For those of us who saw the original Grease in a movie theatre, this brings nostalgia as the show reaches a new generation.