Grease Live: a rant There they are, the happy couple.

Grease Live: a rant

Jenna Simeonov
Note: we’ve received some comments from readers who insist that Grease Live was indeed sung live. To our eyes and ears, that wasn’t clear, and other reviewers had the same sense. We’ve put in an inquiry to find out for sure; we’re reviewing the final product, as always.

Alright, so, it’s good news that a big TV network like FOX aired a musical, not to mention a live performance. Last night was Grease Live, a fairly unique event for mainstream media that seemed on par with NBC’s The Sound of Music Live! with Carrie Underwood as Maria (yup).

We’ve been talking a lot lately about opera on the big screen; how stage acting looks weird on camera, and how the acoustic experience from a film or TV broadcast is basically non-existent when compared to actual live opera. My own little nit-picks about it aside, I’ll grant one big thing to opera made for broadcast: it’s actually live.

I really hope I’m wrong about this, but the music of Grease Live sounded pretty damn studio-recorded. It was too perfect, too well-balanced, equalized to the point of blandness, to be truly live singing. To say this Grease was live is like saying someone using an auto-tuner has great intonation. It’s sort of a useless adjective, “live”.

I realize that this sound elitist, or maybe ignorant of what it actually takes to air a live show of any kind on this kind of scale; but someone at FOX decided that the music in a musical could be exempt from the whole concept of the show. It just makes me think that the performers can’t actually sing while moving around, and I hope I’m wrong about that; there are stellar stage performers who truly are “triple threats” (they can sing, act, and dance), and those are the people that Grease was written for.

Now, I won’t say that broadcasted opera (I’m basically talking about the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD series) doesn’t pull the odd cheap shot. There have been big-name singers in roles that don’t suit them, for sure. So, when the Grease Live cast includes Vanessa Hudgens as Rizzo and Carly Rae Jepsen as Frenchy, I get it. And these two famous ladies can sing, so it’s not like Justin Bieber plays Danny Zuko or anything (although, could you imagine?).

Yet, I maintain that non-Fach-friendly casting is not quite the same as the weird presences of both Mario Lopez and Boyz II Men, none of whom really have that 50s feel. Although, Ana Gasteyer was kind of delightful as The Principal. And whether or not you think an opera singer is poorly suited for their role, at least you know they’re singing live.

So, do we dwell on the lameness of mixing studio recordings with a live show (from what I heard of their singing, it doesn’t sound like the cast was up to the true task). Or, should we go glass-half-full, and stay happy that FOX aired a musical? I realized that the people behind a show like Grease Live are hoping to make money, and that most of the people watching it care very little about everything I just wrote. And hey, if seeing it on TV gets people interested in going to see an actual live show in a theatre, that’s great news.

But man, Grease Live took a lot of work to put together; and predictably, the attention went to hot people, a few celebs, and the general nostalgia many of us feel when we hear all those awesome songs. This could have been a chance to raise the bar, and actually combine the genres of live entertainment and television. Instead, the huge audience watching the show got mediochre acting, bland singing, and zero sense of why live theatre is seriously thrilling.

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