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For three hours on Sunday night, Grease was the word — and its second life on the Internet may keep it that way so long as fans can rediscover some of the production’s standout moments.
EW’s official review of Fox’s Grease: Live can be found here, but critical eye notwithstanding, the buoyant teen musical deserves certain praise for some of the night’s best showstoppers.
Below, our five highlights from Grease: Live that made this trip to Rydell High different from the rest.
“FREDDY MY LOVE”
It didn’t take long to sense the handprint of Broadway director Thomas Kail (Hamilton) on Grease: Live. With Marty’s dreamy ballad about her long-distance military romance, Kail and co-director Alex Rudzinski took a typically underrated song (relegated only to the stage version of Grease) and turned it into the first truly stunning set piece of the evening — and a bombshell showcase for Keke Palmer. In a striking moment of live ingenuity, Frenchy’s bedroom suddenly became Marty’s fantasy USO show, and one of Grease’s unsung gems became the first defining number of Fox’s adaptation.
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Plenty of pressure was riding on arguably the most well-known number in the show (emphasis on arguably!), and Fox’s telecast didn’t pretend the greaser garage number was anything but critical for those three minutes of song-and-dance. A dazzle of lighting design, clever quick changes, Zachary Woodlee choreography, and even a few superfluous back-up dancers imbued “Greased Lightnin'” with the kind of contagious energy that demands much more than a smile and a toe-tap. Just 30 minutes in, we had a showstopper.
“THOSE MAGIC CHANGES”
Akin to “Freddy My Love,” Doody’s guitar ode is one of those stage-only standards only pithily represented in the 1978 film (and not by Doody). Again through Kail and Rudzinski’s creativity (or, perhaps, by bookwriters Jonathan Tolins and Robert Cary), the doo-wop ditty underscored a montage of Danny’s attempts to change himself by trying his hand at a smattering of sport-ball-games. “Magic Changes” was grounded by Jordan Fisher’s vocals, bolstered by Tveit’s expediency, and made all the more impressive by the telecast’s live nature, but most importantly, it was given a crucial and much-needed sense of belonging in the story. The song that always felt like a throwaway effort to include Doody somehow seemed to work.
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DANNY AND SANDY’S HAND JIVE DANCE BREAK
Grease largely hinges on whether a production can convey the manic spirit and restless antics of high school friends let loose; Rydell’s teenage soul is most on display at the nationally televised dance, of which “Born to Hand Jive” is the de facto centerpiece. While the entire sequence worked as a telecast highlight itself, there was a brief stretch of about 20 seconds when Julianne Hough and Aaron Tveit mirrored Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta’s dance break and, at the risk of hyperbolic praise, proved exactly why they deserved to inherit the roles. Hough has faced some criticism in her acting career, but left to her dancing devices with Tveit as a worthy partner, she astonished. Better still, both actors continued that momentum into their solo ballads a few scenes later (Hough knocking it out of the park with “Hopelessly Devoted,” and Tveit anchoring his ever-growing stature as a modern musical theater maven with “Alone at a Drive-In Movie.”)
THE SUPPORTING PLAYERS
Elle McLemore’s obnoxious cheerleader Patty Simcox, Haneefah Wood’s bumbling secretary Blanche, and Ana Gasteyer’s high-strung Principal McGee all filled the musical margins with comedy, camp, and, in the case of Didi Conn’s tear-inducing wave of nostalgia as waitress Vi, certain surprising emotional resonance.