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Will Fox's 'Grease: Live' be the one that we want?

Determined not to let NBC have all the criticism, Fox will premiere its first of two live musicals in 2016 on Sunday: Grease: Live.

The popular musical about randy teens in the 1950s will be the network's first foray into the unwieldy logistics of producing a live musical for a television audience. Next is October's production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show starring Orange is the New Black's Laverne Cox.

Marc Platt, producer of 2014's Into the Woods and the upcoming film adaptation of Wicked, pulled together a seasoned team to helm the program including Tony-nominated director Thomas Kail (Hamilton, In the Heights) and Dancing With the Stars stage director Alex Rudzinski.

Pulling off a live televised musical, however, relies heavily on a cast with enough stage experience to remain near flawless plus the star power to attract an audience of millions.

Julianne Hough, one half of America's most famous brother-sister dance duo, steps into the iconic roll of virgin turned temptress Sandy. People might forget after watching the bubbly blonde hoof it all over Dancing With the Stars that she is also a country singer who even got a rising star award from the Academy of Country Music in 2009.

In the role of Danny Zuko will be Graceland's Aaron Tveit, who held his own during the revolution in 2012's Les Miserables.

But Danny and Sandy are sort of just window dressing in this show. The stand-out numbers in Grease all belong to special guests and supporting actors.

Kicking things off will be Brit-pop star Jessie J to sing Grease is the Word from the original 1978 film starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. Big Time Rush's Carlos PenaVega will belt the innuendo-filled Greased Lighting as bad boy Kenickie. And multi-Grammy winning R&B supergroup Boyz II Men will step into the shoes of Teen Angel to advise Frenchie (Carly Rae Jepsen) about her life as a Beauty School Dropout.

Casting directors also stepped out of the box a few times, casting High School Musical's Vanessa Hudgens as the saucy teen with the pregnancy scare, Rizzo. Scream Queens' Keke Palmer plays flirty girl extraordinaire Marty Maraschino, lending some multi-cultural casting to the historically white group.

Solid casting aside, there are myriad places that Grease: Live can go wrong, and promos and teasers tell us they might be already on the way. Because Grease fans are familiar with the film's staging on an actual high school campus, the live musical will be performed on multiple soundstages during the two-hour show. There will be a studio audience, but it's unclear if ambient crowd noise will be heard.

Multiple stages sucked the life out of NBC's The Sound of Music Live in 2013 and Peter Pan Live in 2014 because the actors seemed perpetually rushed about moving from set to set. And not having an audience was the one ding every critic seemed to have against NBC's best reviewed live musical, 2015's The Wiz Live.

But producers have also gotten a few things right, such as airing the show in the programming desert of January's last weekend with only the NFL Pro Bowl on ESPN as competition. They've also tried jamming an original song into the live musical to differentiate it from the productions everyone has been seeing at the local middle school since time immemorial.

Jepsen's Frenchie gets to deliver the new song, and honchos hope it has Glee levels of success on iTunes. If anyone in the cast can sell an infectious earworm, she can.

Whether it's good or bad, one thing all live musical watchers can look forward to is watching with Twitter fingers at the ready. Live television specials have become a breeding ground to send some of Twitter's funniest memes into the annals of history.

Only time will tell if Grease: Live will be the one that we want.

. watch this

Grease: Live

The musical premieres at 7 p.m. Sunday on Fox. Check your local listings.

Will Fox's 'Grease: Live' be the one that we want? 01/27/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 27, 2016 5:14pm]
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