While singing along at home to Grease: Live! viewers noticed that some of the lyrics in tonight's production weren't quite as they remembered. Was that enough to turn off die-hard fans altogether?
Not quite. Perusing through Twitter, it's easy to find plenty of fans who were thrilled with the performances, the staging, and the callbacks to the classic movie musical. Still, the otherwise stellar production received its fair share of criticism when it came to the issue of censored lyrics.
The trouble started during Vanessa Hudgens' performance of "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee":
Loving #GreaseLive right now! So far only minor cool points lost for changing "fungool" to "be cool" at the end of the Sandra Dee song...— Mary Almonte (@_maryalmonte_) February 1, 2016
Wait, Vanessa Hudgens couldn't say "fongool," but she could say "flog your log?" I don't understand TV censorship at all #GreaseLive— Erin Geier (@ECGeier) February 1, 2016
And it escalated considerably once the guys started singing "Greased Lightning":
OF COURSE they get rid of the line "pussy wagon" and replace "cream" with scream". Jerks. #GreaseLive— .rizzo ford. (@rizzoford) February 1, 2016
Original lyrics: "you know I ain't bragging she's a real pussy wagon."#GreaseLive: "you know I ain't bragging she's a real dragon wagon."— Jess (@J3ss1ca_Colfer) February 1, 2016
When you cut the "pussy wagon" part you don't really understand how these boys are all terrible sexual monsters!!! #GreaseLive— Supreme Leader Snark (@bdrisch) February 1, 2016
So? What gives?
For starters, this is no HBO production. Live performances on network television — particularly ones that air as early in the evening as Grease: Live! did — are held to certain standards, and it's likely that the network found some of the more explicit language to be problematic for the audience it was undoubtedly courting.
Indeed, in an interview with Adweek, executive producer Marc Platt specifically addressed the "wagon" line change: "It's going to be a very family-friendly show, but with the appropriate edge that it needs to have," he explained.
The balance between "family-friendly" and "edge" proved to be confusing for quite a lot of viewers, as many found themselves wondering why certain lines were altered while others were not. Though the direct profanity was largely omitted, the vague sexual assault reference in "Summer Nights" and the epithet that Teen Angel uses in reference to Frenchy, among others, remained present.
So "did she put up a fight" is ok, but "the chicks will cream" and "pussy wagon" are not. Sure. #GreaseLive— Melissa B. (@Buote) February 1, 2016
Things #GreaseLive can do on live tv: simulate car sex between 2 teenagers. Things they apparently can't do: Call said car a pussy wagon— Holly (@astoldbyholly) February 1, 2016
So we can say hooker on live TV, but not pussy wagon okay #GreaseLive— (@flowerpctals_) February 1, 2016
Censorship crisis mended slightly by Boyz II Men still getting to call Carly Rae a hooker #GreaseLive— Sara Solano (@saraisswell) February 1, 2016
Certainly, any production of Grease requires a delicate balance. The show discusses teenage drinking, pregnancy scares, and all sorts of sexuality, yet because it's about teenagers in the wholesome 1950s, it's often considered to be a lot more kid-appropriate than it appears on the surface. This is a musical that's performed by middle and high schools around the country, and surely tonight's production is not the first to incorporate some creative language tweaks. But for audiences most familiar with the film — and not community theater or school productions — the censored songs in Grease: Live! were more than a bit surprising.
None of it took away from Vanessa Hudgens' brilliant performance (made even more impressive when one considers that her father passed away yesterday) or from the subtle yet powerful color-blind casting. And, of course, Grease: Live! contained an energy that has been lacking in the NBC live musical productions, since it actually had a live studio audience. No more awkward silences in between songs! Indeed, there was a lot to love about Grease: Live! and Fox's first foray into the live musical phenomenon.
Let's acknowledge all of that. But let's acknowledge those distracting lyric changes, too.
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