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Grease Live! DVD Review

Grease Live! DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Grease Live!
Broadcast & DVD Details

Directors: Thomas Kail; Alex Rudzinski (live television direction) / Writers: Robert Cary, Jonathan Tolins (television adaptation); Jim Jacobs, Warren Casey (musical book & lyrics); Bronte Woodard (movie screenplay), Allan Carr (movie screenplay adaptation)

Cast: Julianne Hough (Sandy Young), Aaron Tveit (Danny Zuko), Vanessa Hudgens (Betty Rizzo), Keke Palmer (Marty Maraschino), Carly Rae Jepsen (Frenchy), Mario Lopez (Vince Fontaine), Carlos PenaVega (Kenickie), Kether Donohue (Jan), Jordan Fisher (Doody), David Del Rio (Putzie), Andrew Call (Sonny), Wendell Pierce (Coach Calhoun), Boyz II Men (Teen Angels), Jessie J (Opening Singer), DNCE (Johnny Casino and The Gamblers), Ana Gasteyer (Principal McGee), Didi Conn (Vi), Barry Pearl (Mr. Stan Weaver), Elle McLemore (Patty Simcox), Noah Robbins (Eugene Felsnick), Eve Plumb (Mrs. Murdock), Haneefah Wood (Blanche), Sam Clark (Leo), Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer (Cha-Cha DiGregorio), Jon Robert Hall (Tom Chisum), Sam Clark (Leo)

Original Air Date: January 31, 2016 / Running Time: 131 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated (TV-14 on air)

Songs: "Grease (Is the Word)", "Summer Nights", "Freddy, My Love", "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee", "Greased Lightnin'", "Those Magic Changes", "All I Need Is an Angel", "Beauty School Dropout", "Cake By the Ocean", "Rock N' Roll Is Here to Stay", "Rock N' Roll Party Queen", "Maybe (Baby)", "Born to Hand Jive", "Hopelessly Devoted to You", "Sandy", "There Are Worse Things I Could Do", "You're the One That I Want", "We Go Together"

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen (Hi-Def Broadcast Ratio) / Dolby Surround 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None; Closed Captioned; Extras Captioned
DVD Release Date: March 8, 2016 / Suggested Retail Price: $21.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9) / Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on Amazon Instant Video

Buy Grease Live! from Amazon.com: DVD Instant Video

Network television is always evolving. Multi-camera, laugh track-aided sitcoms have been succeeded by single-camera, irony-heavy ones. Scripted series have largely been supplanted by less expensive reality TV.
TV movies, once a staple, have for the most part disappeared, leaving basic and premium cable to fill the void.

NBC, which after years of struggling has narrowly taken a lead in the all-important 18-49 viewership demographic, has tried to resurrect the network television event with a series of live musicals. They began with The Sound of Music Live! in December 2013, which they followed a year later with Peter Pan Live! and The Wiz Live! another year later. Evidently encouraged by their success, Fox decided to get into live theatre broadcasting with January's Grease Live!

Adapted from the most commercially successful movie musical of all time, 1978's Grease, and the Broadway musical on which it was based, Grease Live! tells a story of a number of seniors who are part of the Class of 1959 at Rydell High School. For the most part, our attentions are divided among a group of guys, the greased-hair, leather jacket-wearing "T"-Birds, and a gang of girls who call themselves The Pink Ladies, who also wear matching jackets.

Danny Zuko (Aaron Tveit) and Sandy Young (Julianne Hough) sing of their shared summer romance to their respective cliques in "Grease Live!"

Of these two groups, our main interest lies in Sandy Young (Julianne Hough), a new transfer student from Utah, and Danny Zuko (Aaron Tveit), the coolest guy in school. The two met over the summer and enjoyed a fleeting romance. Each is surprised to have the other as classmate. A secondary romance involves a wannabe hot-rodder named Kenickie (Carlos PenaVega) and no-nonsense Pink Lady Betty Rizzo (Vanessa Hudgens).

Should you be that rare person who has never seen Grease in any form but has somehow stumbled upon this review, this is what you can expect: a car race, flirtation, a dance which attracts the crew of TV's "National Bandstand", and some standard high school shenanigans. The original stage play dripped with '50s nostalgia (a mere 12 years after that decade had ended). The blockbuster movie starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John followed suit. And now, with those old enough to be teenagers during the '50s much too old for network television to care about, this new adaptation still upholds the tradition. Grease Live! also upholds the tradition of casting actors well past high school age to play the leading roles. With few exceptions, they are all filled by people in their late 20s and early 30s. (Stockard Channing still has them all beat.)

Grease Live! lived up to its title. It was performed live and with only a single telling hitch (a mic awkwardly fails Joe Jonas, as he and his group DNCE sing the Rydell Dance). That design distinguishes it from the movie and makes it more akin to theatre, though the presentation borrows from both stage and screen versions of the musical. Needless to say, it won't supplant the movie in the hearts of its longtime fans, but could win over the unacquainted. With a 4-star rating from Amazon customers and a 7.7 out of 10 from the more critical IMDb user vote, Grease Live! was evidently well-received by most who saw it.

Pink-haired beauty school dropout Frenchie (Carly Rae Jepsen) is excited to see the part of Teen Angel filled by the three active members of Boyz II Men. Vanessa Hudgens shows off her tough girl act as female deuteragonist Betsy Rizzo.

Hough, who is probably better known for her work on "Dancing with the Stars"
than film credits like Footloose and Rock of Ages, takes top billing as Sandy. She isn't the strongest live actress, but she naturally nails the few dance bits and proves to have a plenty passable singing voice. Leading man Tveit is Broadway-seasoned and fully comfortable as Danny.

There is plenty of stunt casting here, too. "Call Me Maybe" singer Carly Rae Jepsen plays Frenchy and gets to sing a newly-written song. Boyz II Men collectively play the one Teen Angel that Frankie Avalon portrayed in the film. Didi Conn is the only recognizable movie alumnus to pop up, playing waitress Vi. (Barry Pearl, "Doody" in the film, also appears.) English pop singer Jessie J performs the opening title song indoors and out with lots of flair and occasional shoulder-baring (take that, rain!). Mario Lopez plays "National Bandstand" host Vince Fontaine. Apparently simply because she was relevant in the '70s, "The Brady Bunch"'s Eve Plumb plays shop teacher Mrs. Murdock. Ana Gasteyer and Wendell Pierce have slightly bigger if not terribly substantial roles as Rydell's principal and coach, respectively.

Grease Live! is overlong, even with the commercial breaks melted down to pronounced fade-outs and fade-ins. Three hours on the air, this still runs a patience-testing 131 minutes on DVD, at least if you know Grease. The presentation makes impressive use of space and changes props and costumes in the blink of an eye. Audience members get to sit in bleachers as (presumably unpaid) extras. The camerawork and lighting is nimble and precise. Some may appreciate the color-blind casting, even if it's limited to just a few secondary roles and much of the ensemble. Ultimately, though, Grease Live! is different from the Grease you probably know, but it isn't better in any way. But it's something to see once if you're fond of the play.

Less family-friendly than you might remember it, the show keeps much of the play and movie's innuendo intact, though it changes a few lyrics in "Greased Lightning" and "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee." With its pregnancy scare subplot and ribald gags, it still earned the TV-14 rating that Fox assigned it.

A little over a month after airing, Grease Live! hit DVD this week from Paramount, the studio that produced the original film and this new interpretation of it.

The moral of "Grease" is that if you like someone, you better change to suit their style. Sandy (Julianne Hough) certainly does in the end.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Grease Live! doesn't look like live television of the past, but like digital video of the present. Some blur comes with the medium and DVD's resolution cannot stop some minor artifacting from occurring in the busier dance scenes. Still, the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is most satisfactory for DVD. (The program assumes a 1.33:1 black and white appearance for moments intended to be the "National Bandstand" broadcast.)

Surprisingly, the DVD only offers a plain Dolby Surround 2.0 mix instead of full 5.1-channel audio. It proves to be pretty solid, though, that Jonas bro mic issue notwithstanding. No subtitles are supplied, only closed captioning that will be inaccessible for those watching on an HDMI connection.

Clearly produced before the show itself, the featurettes rely heavily on costumed cast photo shoots like this. William Ivey Long is excited to talk about his costume designs, drawings of which adorn the wall behind him in "Greasin' Up the Joint."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Paramount may not treat new movies to DVD bonus features,
at all these days but they make an exception for this DVD-only release.

The extras begin with "Without a Net: Performing Grease Live!" (5:18), a making-of featurette that gathers lots of rehearsal footage and talking heads to put the experience into perspective.

"Becoming the 'T'-Birds and Pink Ladies" (4:27) has the cast of each group describe their gangs, with clips from the Travolta movie for some comparison. There are also looks at promotional photo and video shoots.

"Greasin' Up the Joint" (4:39) describes what was done to distinguish this incarnation, considering everything from production design to costumes. More rehearsal and photo shoot footage features.

The cast works on their dance moves in "Be-Bop, Swing and Jitterbug." Aaron Tveit and castmate use a fortune teller to answer "When Was Your First..." personal questions.

"Be-Bop, Swing and Jitterbug: The Choreography and Dancers of Grease Live!" (4:22) provides plenty of dance rehearsal footage, numerous comments on the choreography, and a quick "Hand Jive" tutorial.

"When Was Your First...?" (6:20) lets the cast play with paper fortune tellers to find out about their real experiences growing up.

Finally, "My Favorite Grease Moment" (2:48) finds the actors discussing their favorite scenes from the original movie,
which naturally are excerpted in tandem with the remarks.

The nature of the live production would seem to lend to some kind of retrospection on the night and its weather challenges, but no such feature is included here unfortunately.

"Previews" holds a single preview: the theatrical trailer for Daddy's Home, which is the only item that plays automatically at disc insertion.

The two menus are static and silent.

No inserts accompany the plain gray disc within the unslipcovered eco-friendly keepcase.

A little rain can't stop Jessie J and umbrella-wielding cast members from kicking the show into gear with a lively performance of Franki Valli's theme song "Grease."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Grease Live! meets one's expectations for a network television interpretation of live theatre. The whole thing is executed pretty sharply, but there isn't much to distinguish this from the hit 1978 movie. Paramount's DVD offers a decent feature presentation plus a lot of making-of pieces with the cast you might appreciate.

Buy Grease Live! from Amazon.com: DVD / Instant Video

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Reviewed March 10, 2016.



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