The conductor struck up the band, but the audience was already screaming. After all, many audience members who watched the television auditions for the third revival of "Grease," the iconic greaser classic, may have voted for the people they were about to see on the stage.
For those of you who didn't tune in to the reality show, "Grease: You're the One That I Want," this is what happened. A bunch of star-struck youngsters who believed in themselves and their talent heeded the open call for a man and woman to play teenagers Danny Zuko and Sandy Dumbrowski, the roles created by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in the hit film.
Among the thousands who auditioned, 20 of mediocre talent (that was the best they got) were selected to perform on successive Sundays, and at the end of each show, people called in to vote for their favorites. The following week, one man and one woman was eliminated based on the votes till the two winners were left: Laura Osnes and Max Crumm, now starring in Broadway.
Crumm's claim to fame is -- well, he has none, never having appeared on stage before, but Osnes, more experienced, did play the role of Sandy at Chanhassen Dinner theatre in Minnesota. Yes, a point is being made here, albeit a sarcastic one. Casting is an art, and when the right people are in the right roles, everyone glows and the live theater experience is exhilarating. Unfortunately, it doesn't come together in this dull incarnation of "Grease."
For lack of a better word, Crumm is just ordinary. Nice guy, kinda sweet, but merely someone working hard at acting, singing and dancing sans Travolta's charisma. Osnes, on the other hand, actually is talented but has a ways to go before she's ready for the big time. As for chemistry, this couple are simply two inert elements -- they don't connect with each other, or the audience.
The other problem is, the "reality" part has nothing to do with the reality of the saga of "Grease." The supporting cast, playing Rizzo, Kenickie, Frenchy and other members of the T-Birds and Pink Ladies, resemble more the parents of high school greasers than teenagers -- the only way they could look like they go to Rydell High School is if they were Super Seniors for many, many years.
The songs are still sing-along; the voices, especially those of Osnes, and Jenny Powers (Rizzo), are strong; and Kathleen Marshall's choreography is just right for the high school crowd. But the stage is too small and shallow for this production. It's hard to have a real dance contest when only six contestants can actually fit on the stage at one time.
And then there's the story -- cut up, doctored, and rearranged. The subplot takes over the main plot, so it's Kenickie and Rizzo who dominate. "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee" has been misplaced. Sandy's "Devoted to You" is too little, and way too late. And if you're waiting for the great car, Grease Lightning, to have any meaning ï¿½ watch the movie instead. It makes an appearance on the small, cluttered stage, but since there's no drag race, there's no point.
The T-Birds do an impressive dance number on top of the car, but that was the last we saw of it. There was some rumbling about a rumble, but no one, not even the kids behind us, could take it seriously.
So, if this production is officially classified as a revival, then poor "Grease" suffocates and dies. If it's a remake, then it still falls short of its mark. Maybe, just maybe, reality TV should leave Broadway alone. Let the cast members stand online for hours at open calls, work for their Equity cards, and make us all proud when their hard work pays off.
If you want to see "Grease," rent the movie.
What the press had to say.....
ï¿½Feels like a musical put on by a high school ï¿½ and I donï¿½t mean a high school of performing arts."
New York Times
"Without magnetic performances, interest wanes in whether Danny and Sandy will couple up. Chills don't start multiplying, antsiness does."
New York Daily News
"All told, I've seen worse - but then, I've been attending the theater for more than 65 years, so "worse" is a very well-thumbed comparative."
New York Post
"Sure, they're the nice kids TV-land America deemed worthy to be Danny and Sandy, but Max Crumm and Laura Osnes are no dream team." & "The big trouble onstage is there's absolutely no sexual heat generated between them. When "Grease" doesn't sizzle, its ingredients tend to congeal."
"How anything can be so perky and yet so bland is yet another mystery for the ages." & "It appears that the rest of the company was cast to keep the youngsters from looking bad in comparison."
"Grease" is the word on Broadway, again. And it's better than ever. The second major revival of this sweet, nostalgic show about high school life in 1959 opened last night at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Somehow it feels like a freshly minted hit: one part show, and two parts party where everybody's invited."
The Journal News
"What these two young performers lack is not professionalism but distinctiveness. They certainly say their lines and sing their songs well enough. There isn't, though, that individuality or eye-catching style that makes a typical Broadway lead stand out. Their shortcomings are those of the entire production, which has a youthful and eager cast giving impersonal, rather generic performances."
"They are (Laura Osnes & Max Crumm), we have been reminded ad nauseam, the ones that we wanted, and they are the ones that we got. (They are also, to be fair, no less ready for the big time than many of the C-list celebrities that were plunked into the even shoddier - and hugely popular - 1990s revival of "Grease.")"
New York Sun
"And what about those tried-and-TV-tested leads? Laura Osnes, young but already possessed of serious theatrical credits, is an enchanting Sandy...But, alas, the televictorious Danny, Max Crumm (isn't the very name a warning?), is physically unfavored, falls somewhere between a dork and a goon, and is unable to evince the slightest chemistry with his delightful Sandy."
"As Danny, Max Crumm gives a cautious performance, vocally OK but short on swagger and sex appeal. Laura Osnes nicely gets Sandy's transformation, morphing with enthusiasm from good girl to bad babe... Osnes also sings well and throws herself into Marshall's spirited choreography."
"Tackily produced and utterly lacking the sort of fun comic spark that the original production and certainly the movie possessed (though not the most recent Broadway revival in 1994), this is a "Grease" that only will be appreciated by young TV viewers who don't know any better."
"The most dismal thing about this "Grease" is that aside from the two discoveries plucked from a mediocre TV talent pool and thrust into this sorry walk-through, no-one appears to be trying very hard. Like the drag-queeny wig slapped on Sandy when she finally conforms to the cool-kid ethos by unleashing the bad-girl within to win Danny, it all seems somewhat counterfeit."
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