Theatre Thursday :: on the Fox production of Grease

4 Feb

As I think I’ve mentioned before, actually, almost know with a certainty, I… really do not like Grease.  I saw the movie a bunch of times when I was younger and it was always like “oh okay fun a movie this is stupid and goofy can we watch Rocky Horror now” but when I first saw the stage show on tour I realized I… just really don’t like the material.  (And Taylor Hicks as the “Teen” Angel didn’t help matters.)

I will fully admit Grease is awful because it really is. I’ve never seen the stage show, but my mom showed me the movie in high school because of course she did (to be fair, my mom and I like cheesy musicals almost as much as actual good ones) and she ended up getting the soundtrack through some weird circumstances (I feel like it was some school program? for my private Christian high school?). So we play it on road trips sometimes, and the movie makes me laugh, mostly because it’s so bad. I don’t think I would feel so fondly towards it if my mom didn’t enjoy it mostly unironically.

So that’s where we were both coming in to the Fox production of Grease.  Combined with assuming that, in the style of the NBC productions of The Sound of Music and Peter Pan (because I’m a terrible person and didn’t remember to record The Wiz and have had a hard time finding it legally but I hear it’s great and good for you everyone!), it would be terrible.  Hilarious, alcohol-y terrible.

It… kind of wasn’t, though?  For Grease.  The fact that they actually cast the T-Birds and Pink Ladies with not just white kids helped (although honestly, they really should have used Doody’s name from the film instead of calling him Doody, given that he was a brown kid).  Also Aaron Tveit is gold and Vanessa Hudgens was excellent.

Alright, cards on the table, I was super into High School Musical from about age 14-16. (In case you’re wondering what aggressively sheltering Christian kids does, this is what it does. It ensures they’re still watching Disney Channel in middle school.) And one of my favorite things about it was Vanessa Hudgens (back then she was using her middle name too). Now, of course, I see that was my tiny queer self fixating on the pretty dark-haired girl because that’s what I’ve done pretty much all my life, but back then I just thought I related to Gabriella because she was shy and nerdy. HAH! But anyway, I listened to that album about 2000 times and also ripped a bunch of tracks off of Vanessa’s debut album and listened to those a lot too, and somewhere along the line I just sort of forgot about her, as you do. She also did a bunch of shit I had absolutely no interest in, and I had honestly not thought about her in years when the announcement came that she would play Rizzo in this new production. Huh, I thought, good for her, now I have a reason to watch and probably enjoy parts of it. She looks like this and lemme tell you, if my fourteen-year-old self had seen that, I might’ve figured out some stuff about myself a lot sooner. Also she was easily the most interesting female performer, and her rendition of “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” was perfect. Twitter told me during the broadcast that her father had just died the day before, and especially considering that, she kicked ass. I’m weirdly proud of her, considering I haven’t thought of her in a long time.

And, actually, I’m gonna talk about Aaron Tveit a little more.  He’s how I roped my parents into watching this, because we’ve seen Aaron a few times live and we adore him, and he didn’t disappoint.  He managed to play Danny Zuko in this way like he was playing him completely sincerely but also with complete awareness of the inherent disgustingness of him.  Because Danny Zuko is  big old jerk and that’s just a fact.  But normally he’s a big old jerk that I don’t find funny, and I found Aaron funny, and also he was easily the sharpest dancer (“Greased Lightning” was almost hilarious to me just because of that).

As for the rest of the cast: Carly Rae Jepsen was adorable, although that song they wrote for her was…well, boring is the kindest word. A friend of mine is a pretty big fan of hers, and gave me one of her older albums, and I think she has a lot of really fun energy and joy and there wasn’t any of that in that scene, which was odd. She and Sandy should probably have gotten together at the end, though. Keke Palmer was adorable also and I would like to see her in something where she actually got to do more than sing one nonsensical song about having a sugar daddy and throw shade on Mario Lopez.  Kether Donahue who played Jan was… exactly what Jan should always be, which is to say dorky and kind of fun.  The other boys were essentially only distinguishable by a single identifier (owns the car, plays the guitar) or which girl they were talking to, but they’re never really more than that.

And then there’s the matter of Julianne Hough. I admit I was coming into this apprehensive about her, and having seen one of my friends tweet about how Taylor Swift would’ve been amazing didn’t really help. The thing is, I don’t have any concrete criticism of Hough – I just don’t have a lot of positive things to say either. She was kind of just aggressively beige, and not in the way that Sandy is supposed to be. My mom said, when she came out in the sexy outfit at the end, “Nope. I don’t believe this.” I have to agree. Her voice is fine, her dancing is pretty good, but she just didn’t do much for me, especially in comparison to Aaron Tveit who was hamming it up pretty well. The meta jokes were funny at first but after a while… less so, also.  And the nonsensical “Sandy shows Patty Simcox up at cheerleading tryouts” bit served virtually no purpose.

It’s weird saying that I’m actually the tiniest bit disappointed that it was a technically solid production.  I don’t go to the actual theatre thinking like that.  But it’s a little bit true.  I didn’t laugh uproariously or anything, and I think that just means that I had to adjust my expectations.  It was definitely not a trainwreck, though!  It was solid, though not flawless, and everyone kept up.  So maybe the pattern is just going to be that some of these are hilarious and some of them are good and you just have to wait and find out which is which.

–your fangirl heroines.



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