Grease, the 1972 hit musical that ran for years playing over 3,388 performances on Broadway went on to become even a better 1978 film blockbuster boasting two charismatic star turns by John Travolta and Olivia Newton John in the leading roles of Danny and Sandy. There was another revival in 1994, but the little musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey is back again this time with a smart marketing scheme geared to luring television’s young audience into the theater. In case you have been out of the country, the producer’s came up with a clever gimmick: let the American public choose the leads for the latest revival by way of an NBC talent competition reality show, “Grease: You’re the One That I want,” which concluded in late march after a 12 week run.
The winners, Laura Osnes and Max Crumm, have been thrust into choreographer/director Kathleen Marshall’s zippy new production, and while the series’ ratings were considered disappointing for television, approximately 7.5 million viewers per episode, by Broadway standards that’s a rather hefty number. Consider this fact from the press release: “Grease would have to completely sell out every performance each day of the year for 18 years in order to reach the same amount of people who saw one episode…” If only a small percentage, were talking less than 5% actually buy tickets, the musical, which has become a cultural phenomenon, will turn into a mega hit cash cow. At a cost of around 9.5 million dollars Grease has already racked up a 15 million advance playing to almost capacity audiences. Now what is good for the box office does not necessarily translate into outstanding theater.
While Ms. Osner and Mr. Crumm are obviously talented singers and dancers, they are not Broadway stars by any stretch of the imagination and what works for television often doesn’t play in the theater, especially musical comedy. Osner and Crumm don’t seem to understand what is required to build a character, even those as simple as Sandy and Danny, and they have apparently received little support from Ms. Marshall, who appears to have concentrated on keeping the show perky and vibrant. On that account all three succeed admirably, but the spunky duo in the leads posses a limited charm that despite all their hard work isn’t captivating. He sings confidently, and she has an excellent range with a great ability to belt the high notes.
They both dance Marshall’s spirited choreography with committed zest, but little feels lived in and the sexual chemistry needed to give the show a raw appeal is non existent. There are no sparks, and the edge that drove the predecessors does not come into play. Crumm is way too likeable without the requisite swagger or danger. The two come across as a lovely brother/sister team trying hard to be something more. If this were a road company, they would probably be toasted stars, but on Broadway they would be better off in supporting roles. Most of the television viewers, who may have never seen a Broadway show, probably won’t know the difference.
The rest of the cast does quite well, especially Jenny Powers as the tough Rizzo and Matthew Saldivar is winning as the hot rodder Kenickie. She delivers the song “There Are Worse Things I Could Do,” with genuine emotion making it one of the evening’s highlights.
The producers were smart enough to add the four hit songs that were created for the film by Barry Gibb, John Farrar, Louis St. Louis and Scott Simon, but for some reason they didn’t keep any of the excellent script changes that gave the movie added depth.
Marshall, who was one of the television judges, has an outstanding reputation having helmed acclaimed productions of the musicals On the Town and the Pajama Game, but although she keeps the staging briskly energetic, there aren’t any chills, and the effect is unfortunately mechanical. After a while all the songs sound alike and it feels like one big hand jive. My eyes kept moving overhead, where the orchestra could be seen above the scenic design led by the lively conductor Kimberly Grigsby. She was having the time of her life, and her pulsating body image lingers in my mind as the most memorable part of this rather one noted revival.
By Gordin & Christiano
Originally Published in Dans Papers
Grease opened on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 West 47th Street, on August 19, 2007. Tickets are available through TicketMaster at 212-307-4100 or HYPERLINK "http://www.ticketmaster.com" www.ticketmaster.com or at the theatre box office.