Why Grease Is The Word On Everyone’s Lips . . .

Reviews, tweets and opinions of last night’s live broadcast of Grease (in the US, we get our go in Australia tonight) have been flowing fast all over the internet today. And despite many doubts about a predominantly star-cast and iconic show, the overall opinion of the internet is incredibly positive. Why? Easy, one reason . . .

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Believe it or not, Grease actually started out as a musical not a movie. Long before Olivia Newton-John donned the black lycra, Grease opened on off-Broadway in 1972 before moving onto Broadway later that year and running for 3,388 performances. There was plenty of debate in the lead up to this live musical production on FOX as to whether the show should remain true to the musical or the iconic 1978 movie with theatre lovers very vocal about the show representing the musical and not the populist option of copying the movie.

So what did the producers do? They combined the two.

If you are reproducing Grease in musical form, you face a number of difficult choices because the musical is so different to the movie. The original musical version has a whole suite of alternate songs to the movie and doesn’t even contain the perennial favourite ‘You’re The One That I Want’. Recent versions have tried to rectify this issue by bringing the musical version a little closer to the movie and have received great success, but FOX took it a step further.

The key to their success was that they managed to meld the two art forms together.

They took the audience interaction from the theatre and the grandiose nature of the movie and brought them into the one package.

Unlike other Live! musicals that have been created by NBC, FOX’s attempt brought a live audience on set. They acted as onlookers at the school dance too afraid to step onto the dancefloor. They formed an army audience at a big USO concert. They even made up the crowds in the final carnival scene. And the best part, they reacted to the show.

There is a reason why television sitcoms contain canned laughter. The scripts are written around this intense audience response. And all theatrical writing relies on the same tendencies. It has been written to play to a room of 2,000 people who laugh at jokes, gasp at tragedy and create a sense of community around the experience. That is something which NBC’s musicals have been missing when jokes occasionally fall flat because they were written to create a noticeable audience reaction. But not Grease.

What about the movie side of it?

Well, this version was filmed on a 22-acre soundstage with enormous multi-purpose sets and transitions which could never be accomplished within a theatrical medium but are expected for the screen. The movie version of Grease has set the bar high for this retelling especially considering that it is competing on the same screen-based channels. Anyone who had seen the movie would feel let down if the production had been contained to one tiny stage with sets which fly in and out because they went in with the expectation of a movie-scale experience.

Customer expectations are a difficult thing to handle. You can never please everyone and it is very easy to misjudge the audience’s expected experience – especially when dealing with such a much loved and iconic brand. But by approaching the show from two different angles, understanding their customers’ expectations and creating a product which ultimately served those needs, they have managed to create incredibly satisfied customers who have not stopped talking about their product all day!

Watch it for yourself tonight on Channel 9 at 8.30pm!

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