Following The Fad, Live 'Grease' Hits The Silver Screen
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GREASE")
JOHN TRAVOLTA: (As Danny Zuko, singing) Why, this car is automatic. It's systematic. It's hydromatic. Why, it's greased lightning.
MARTIN: Oh, man. If you are a diehard "Grease" fan, wait no more. Danny, Sandy Rizzo, and Kenickie are back at Rydell High in a new rendition of "Grease." It is airing live on Fox tonight. It is, of course, the latest in a string of live TV musicals, including "The Sound Of Music," "Peter Pan" and most recently, "The Wiz."
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GREASE")
TRAVOLTA: (As Danny Zuko, singing) Greased lightning. Go greased lightning, you're burning up the quarter-mile.
MARTIN: NPR's own TV guru, Linda Holmes, is back with us. She writes NPR's pop culture blog, Monkey See, and she's here for some "Grease" karaoke.
LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: (Laughter).
MARTIN: No? We're not doing that?
HOLMES: No, I'm afraid not.
MARTIN: Bummer. Are these good? I mean, are people watching them, because haven't reviews been kind of mixed on these?
HOLMES: Reviews have been mixed. I think "The Sound Of Music" and "Peter Pan" both had pretty mixed reviews, mixed to negative. "The Wiz" in December got pretty good reviews, and there were some terrific people in that one. And I think that was the one that's gotten the best critical notices for sure.
MARTIN: All right, so "Grease." I love "Grease," so many of us love "Grease." Is this the makings for another hit?
HOLMES: Well, I think what you hope if you're Fox is that like "The Sound Of Music," "Grease" has an iconic and very beloved film version that has helped keep the show familiar to people, but that is not so recent that people look at it and say why would you do that again already? So I think that that's what they would hope, is that that familiarity brings people to a production of the show starring different people.
MARTIN: All right, so you said talent is a big deal. Talent helped kind of propel "The Wiz." And "The Sound Of Music," as you mentioned, had a really big star, Carrie Underwood.
MARTIN: So what's the talent lineup for "Grease"?
HOLMES: Well, probably the biggest music star is Carly Rae Jepsen, who you might remember...
MARTIN: ...Might I (Laughter)?
HOLMES: From a modest little song called "Call Me Maybe." She is playing Frenchy, who's the friend who goes to beauty school and winds up with the purple hair in the movie. But there's also Julianne Hough, who was also in the second "Footloose" that they made. Julianne Hough is playing Sandy...
MARTIN: ...I know she dated Ryan Seacrest for a while.
HOLMES: Yes, she did. Vanessa Hudgens, who was in "High School Musical" is your Rizzo, which is the Stockard Channing part from the movie.
HOLMES: Yeah, I - one wonders. But she was in a fairly debaucherous movie, as I understand it, with James Franco, so...
MARTIN: ...I know you want that character to be a little edgy and have some gravitas. I don't know if I buy...
HOLMES: ...Yeah, but I will say Zac Efron, who was also in "High School Musical," has made some...
MARTIN: ...That's true...
HOLMES: ...More grown-up stuff than you would think. So I give the Hudge (ph) a chance on this one. You never know. Their most interesting piece of casting to me is that the teen Angel, who in the movie was played by Frankie Avalon, is being played by all of Boyz II Men.
HOLMES: The group, Boyz II Men.
HOLMES: Yes. And so it's such a weird idea, but it's so cool. And when you hear it it, it's so obviously a good idea.
MARTIN: Are they going to come out of the clouds?
HOLMES: I don't know, Rachel.
MARTIN: Who knows?
HOLMES: I'm not choreographing, but I assume - that's what I'm hoping for as well.
MARTIN: Wow, that's cool. And embedded in all of this is the element of live, right? We still - do we watch to see if something's going to go wrong?
HOLMES: I think that's part of it. And, you know, live musicals go back on network television a long time. In the '50s, Julie Andrews was in the Rodgers and Hammerstein "Cinderella," which they wrote for television. And I think 100 million people watched that. So these go back a long time. And I think the charm of it is both it has an element of what people love about live theater, which is it's exciting and vibrant, but also yes, as with sports, as with - you know...
MARTIN: ...That's so cynical...
HOLMES: ...Any time you talk about why people watch skating - like, Olympic skating - it's not that you want anyone to fall down...
MARTIN: ...To miss the triple Lutz.
HOLMES: You don't want anyone to fall down. You don't want anyone to crack horribly on a note, and I don't think that has happened in any of these live shows yet. But there's always the chance. And you feel - you have that feeling of, like, what might happen? Now granted, people do "Saturday Night Live" every week, you know, and it's not that big of a deal. But at the same time, every once in a while...
MARTIN: ...Stakes are higher...
HOLMES: ...On "Saturday Night Live," somebody cracks up, somebody loses control.
HOLMES: There is an element of stakes in a live performance.
MARTIN: OK, I'm going to watch. You've convinced me. I think I'm going to do it.
HOLMES: How can you not?
MARTIN: How can you not? Linda Holmes hosts NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour. Thanks, Linda.
HOLMES: Thank you, Rachel.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GREASE")
FRANKIE VALLI: (Singing) Grease is the word.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) Grease is the word that you've heard.
VALLI: (Singing) It's got groove, it's got meaning.
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