‘Grease: Live’ Raises the Bar for Televised Live Musicals

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Rebecca Boyajian

Ex-Disney star and High School Musical icon Vanessa Hudgens played Rizzo in Fox’s rendition of “Grease: Live.” Hudgens’ performance was well received and one of the most memorable performances of the night.

In 2013, NBC started a trend of televised musicals with “The Sound of Music.” The pioneering form of live television got off to a rocky start; the classic World War II musical was not well-received by young viewers. Since then, networks have tried to capture young audiences with live productions, inhibited by the fact that plays and musicals traditionally attract older demographics. Fox has finally succeeded with their revisioned “Grease.” They took on the challenge of living up to a movie that has inspired many with a timeless plot: a straitlaced girl and a greaser struggle with reputations when they fall in love. However, doubts evaporated once the T-Birds’ dynamic banter and Rizzo’s sass took center stage, and it became evident that the talented, well-known cast would put on a killer show.

   “Grease: Live” accumulated a large fan base due to the popularity of its original versions. The classic 1978 film’s theme of breaking stereotypes resonates with viewers of any age. Similar productions failed to attract young demographics because of antiquated subject matter; for example, NBC’s stuffy “The Sound of Music” catered to Broadway aficionados and older fans. “Grease” had a modern twist, attracting new fans with lively numbers like “Greased Lightning.”

  Much of the popularity of “Grease: Live” is due to its vibrant cast, many of whom are well-known to teens. The cast included pop singer Carly Rae Jepson (Frenchy), actress Vanessa Hudgens (Rizzo) and three ex-Nickelodeon stars: Carlos Pena Jr. (Kenickie) of “Big Time Rush,” David Del Rio (Putzie) of “The Troop,” and Keke Palmer (Marty) of “True Jackson VP.” A cameo by Joe Jonas, whose band DNCE performed as Johnny Casino and The Gamblers surprised fans. Julianne Hough was a perfect Sandy; her dance talent shined as she showed a surprising talent for singing. Broadway star Aaron Tveit (Danny Zuko) brought a powerful voice, though he did not live up to John Travolta’s eccentricity.

  Vanessa Hudgens impressed viewers as the ever-sassy Rizzo. Hudgens was witty and vulnerable, and her performance was especially touching as her father passed away the night before. She nailed the Pink Lady’s snark, and her rendition of “There Are Worst Things I Could Do” was the most poignant performance of the night.

   “Grease: Live” has been the most successful live musical in terms of fans’ response. The energetic cast raised the bar for future shows. Fox has proven that younger demographics are the key to successful shows in this new genre. For future productions, Fox should consider fans’ eagerness for familiar actors who supply the electrifying energy that the “Grease: Live” cast brought.