Chat with us in Facebook Messenger. Find out what's happening in the world as it unfolds.

'Grease: Live': It's a hit

Story highlights

  • Fox's live three-hour version of "Grease" aired Sunday night
  • Viewers raved about the dancing, Vanessa Hudgens' brave performance

(CNN)The word on "Grease: Live": It's electrifying.

Fox's live TV musical overcame technical glitches, a rare Los Angeles rainstorm and the death of a key cast member's father to score rave reviews on social media and elsewhere.
    "This production wasn't about hitting notes or taking breath, but rather about making things breathtaking. And time after time, 'Grease: Live' succeeded," wrote Daniel Fienberg in The Hollywood Reporter.
    "In this moment overrun with must-see TV events, 'Grease' wasn't just live. It was alive," gushed Entertainment Weekly's Darren Franich.
    Some other critics were less kind, citing the sometimes-clunky acting between the big musical numbers. But in the court of popular opinion -- Facebook and Twitter -- the show was a worthy successor to the 1978 John Travolta-Olivia Newton-John movie.
    Audio glitches interrupted Sandy's big solo, "Hopelessly Devoted to You," and viewers in Atlanta were jolted when the "Born to Hand Jive" dance cut out partway through and was abruptly replaced with a repeat of the "Greased Lightning" scene from earlier in the broadcast.
    A El Nino downpour also forced cast members to carry umbrellas during some outdoor scenes, filmed on a Warner Brothers backlot.
    Still, the ambitious three-hour production drew an average of 12.2 million viewers for Fox and will likely encourage networks to develop more musicals for live television. Here's what worked, and what didn't.

    Hit: Staging

    From the moment singer Jessie J broke into the title song and the camera tracked her as she snaked her way backstage, past cheering extras and out onto the street, you knew "Grease: Live" was not a typical musical.
    The show made full use of its two soundstages, 21 sets and live audience to break down theater's fourth wall in creative ways.
    "It took less than five minutes into Fox's 'Grease: Live' for director Thomas Kail to throw down the gauntlet, kick it out the door and slam the door shut on just about any future live musicals when it comes to sheer technical dexterity," said The Hollywood Reporter's Fienberg.

    Miss: Non-musical sequences

    From "Greased Lightning" to "Hand Jive" to "You're the One That I Want," the show's big musical numbers bristled with energy. The scenes inbetween, not so much.
    "Grease" is not known for its sparkling repartee, and the dialogue in "Grease: Live" -- some of it delivered by cast members who are better singers or dancers than actors -- often fell flat.
    Julianne Hough was a blandly pretty presence as Sandy -- imported from Utah this time instead of Australia -- and as Danny, Aaron Tveit could have used a little of that old Travolta swagger. They're both great dancers, though.
    One notable exception was a touching scene in which new Frenchy (Carly Rae Jepsen) gets career advice from old Frenchy (Didi Conn from the movie, playing a sweet-natured waitress this time).

    Hit: Vanessa Hudgens

    The "High School Musical" veteran drew raves for her brave performance as the bruised, tough-talking Rizzo, going on live TV only hours after her father, Greg Hudgens, died of cancer. The actress dedicated her performance to her dad, and Fox paid tribute to him during the closing credits.
    Some fans admitted to getting a little teary during Rizzo's wistful solo number, "There Are Worse Things I Could Do," which Hudgens handled with presence and class.
    She even impressed Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the Broadway smash "Hamilton."
    "Imagine you had Vanessa Hudgens' day, and doing that. What a superhero. In total awe," he tweeted.

    Miss: Movie/musical confusion

    Was "Grease: Live" a fresh reimagining of the 1972 Broadway musical or a slavish homage to the beloved movie?
    At times the show couldn't seem to decide which one it wanted to be.
    It restored Broadway songs like "Freddy, My Love" that were cut from the film, and staged some movie scenes in new ways. But the show also reproduced some movie moments, like good-girl Sandy's climactic transformation into a black-clad temptress, almost note for note.

    Hit: Diverse casting

    From Keke Palmer (as Marty, one of the Pink Ladies) and Mario Lopez (as TV host Vince Fontaine) to Wendell Pierce (as Coach Calhoun) and Boyz II Men (as the Teen Angels), the performers of "Grease: Live" were much more ethnically diverse than the lily-white cast of the movie 38 years ago.
    At a time when Hollywood is under fire for overlooking minority actors, this inclusiveness was good to see.

    Miss: That Thunder Road scene

    OK, so it's pretty much impossible to race real cars on a soundstage. But couldn't they have at least made those hot rods look like they were moving?
    Wrote TV Guide's Megan Vick: "It was a nice effort, but didn't quite cross the finish line."