Emmy spotlight: Will ‘Grease: Live’ sing and dance its way to the top?

Grease is the word, is the word that you heard, it’s got a groove, it’s got a meaning …” Admit it, you loved “Grease,” the 1978 classic movie musical based on the 1971 Broadway hit, and when “Grease: Live” premiered on Fox in January, you watched in awe as the cast and crew pulled off one of the most entertaining and enchanting TV specials in years. How will Emmy Awards voters be able to resist it?

Paramount TV’s lavish production is competing as a Special Class program at the Emmys, a catch-all category celebrating events that don’t neatly fit in to the Best Variety Special or Best TV Movie races. Last year, the Oscar, Golden Globe and Tony telecasts competed alongside the HBO special “Beyonce and Jay Z on the Run” and the PBS presentation of the New York Philharmonic’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Live from Lincoln Center),” which took home the Emmy.

“Grease: Live” stars Broadway vet Aaron Tveit as Danny Zuko and actress/choreographer Julianne Hough as Sandy Young. It was spectacularly brought to life by over 100 cast and 600 crew live to air after months of meticulous planning and rehearsal on 21 sets across the rain-soaked Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, California.

Paramount TV partnered with FOX, which wanted to jump in to the TV musical fray following the success of NBC’s “Sound of Music” in 2013, “Peter Pan” in 2014 and “The Wiz” in 2015. Although on paper it was a massive gamble, it was an instant success, garnering over 12 million viewers stateside. Critics were also on board for the ride, as the production currently merits a 91% rating at Rotten Tomatoes and a 75 score at MetaCritic. Among the many raves for the special were some of the nation’s leading TV critics:

Ellen Gray (Philadelphia Daily News): “The MVP of ‘Grease: Live’ has to be director Thomas Kail, who segued from Broadway’s Hamilton to Rydell High and along with Alex Rudzinski, pulled off the most ambitious live TV musical in my memory, anyway.”

Michael Slezak (TV Line): “‘Grease’s’ live audience and inconsequential snafus served to underscore its meticulous production and allowed us to get swept up in a joyous and uniformly powerful set of performances.”

Sophie Gilbert (The Atlantic): “It’s like Fox took all the best elements of the British pantomime tradition (aggressive celebrity cameos, audience interaction) and fused them with big-budget movie-making and Tony-winning direction to make a musical-theater experience NBC could never, ever top.”

While “Grease: Live” is a shoo-in for a Best Special Class Program nom at the Emmys, the cast and crew are also eligible in other categories. Kail is a safe bet to back up his recent Tony nomination for Broadway juggernaut “Hamilton” with an Emmy nod along with his co-helmer Rudzinski for Best Variety Special Directing. Writers Robert Cary and Jonathan Tolins might also be contenders for Best Variety Special Writing. The special will also be a strong contender across the board at the Creative Arts Emmys, with likely nods for production design, music direction, choreography, technical direction and music and lyrics for the original tune “All I Need is an Angel,” penned by Tony and Pulitzer Prize winners Tom Kitt & Brian Yorkey (“Next to Normal”).

Somewhat confusingly, given that there are no dedicated categories for performers in variety or special class programming, the main cast members will be eligible in the movie/mini acting categories. Look out especially for Vanessa Hudgens (as Rizzo) in Best Movie/Mini Supporting Actress, who received the most stellar reviews of the whole ensemble. Unknown to viewers was that her father had passed away only hours before.

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