Did Aaron Tveit Measure Up to Travolta’s Danny Zuko in ‘Grease: Live’?

It’s the day after Grease: Live, and everyone is talking about the live Fox musical—and its leading man, Aaron Tveit. Nearly 40 years after John Travolta played Danny Zuko on the big screen version of the Broadway hit, the 32-year-old actor had some big shoes (and, apparently, shorts) to fill as the T-Birds leader in Fox’s first-ever live production. And of course, diehard fans of the 1978 movie—and critics— had plenty of reaction to Tveit’s casting in the iconic role.

Sure, Aaron Tveit didn’t look quite like John Travolta’s Danny. The hair was really off, a detail that the actor made note of in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter. But when asked who his influences were for getting into character, Tveit said he was going for a different type of Danny than Travolta’s, anyway.

“I have watched the movie, I mean Travolta’s amazing in it and the way that he does it. But also – because I’m a little more blond than he is – my Danny’s more of a James Dean Danny than an Elvis Danny so I’m kind of thinking about that.”

Although Tveit didn’t look exactly like Travolta’s “Elvis” Danny, he sure sounded like him. Like his predecessor, the actor’s big moment came in the show’s iconic musical number, “Greased Lightning.” And while the original song’s racy lyrics were dramatically changed for primetime TV, Tveit pulled the song off big time, right down to those suggestive dance moves. In fact, the bedazzled musical number was one of the highlights of the Fox show.

While the “Greased Lightning” scene had people talking, Twitter users seemed to be mostly focused on the white gym shorts Aaron Tveit wore in a scene when his character tried out for the Rydell High track team. Us Weekly posted a series of tweets about Aaron’s white shortie shorts, leading with the gleeful reaction of Pitch Perfect star Anna Kendrick. (Hint: She approved.) Of course, fans of the 1978 Grease movie may remember John Travolta wearing short shorts for the gym class scene, but the outfit didn’t create quite as much buzz back then.

Ahead of Grease: Live, Travolta predicted that Tveit would do a great job as Danny Zuko. Travolta even told the Insider that he thinks Aaron is a talented actor.

“From what I can tell, he’s got the talent. He’s able to sing and dance, and I’m sure he’s gonna do a great job.”

Still, Variety gave Aaron’s performance a harsh review, describing him as a weak links and “charisma-challenged” in the star-studded production. While his dancing was praised, Tveit’s acting was slammed as bland and as boring as “a glass of milk.”

Of course, fan reaction is what’s most important. Grease: Live stars Julianne Hough and Vanessa Hudgens received rave fan reviews for their roles as Sandy and Rizzo, respectively (Hudgens may even have been the MVP of the performance, because she was grieving the death of her father, who passed away one day before the live show), and so did Tveit. And while he didn’t come off as a John Travolta clone, the actor gave us a different kind of Zuko. Which is probably the way the way it should be.

While Aaron Tveit may be a new name to some viewers, he’s actually a seasoned Broadway veteran, with roles in stage versions of Catch Me If You Can and Rent on his resume. And Grease: Live isn’t the actor’s first TV role, either. Tveit has had roles in several TV series, including a lead role on Graceland and a recurring role on Gossip Girl.

What did you think of Aaron Tveit’s performance in Grease: Live? Check out one of his biggest scenes in the video below.

[Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images]