'Grease': They're the ones that we want; Jenny Powers, too

March 26, 2007

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Last night was the big finale of "Grease: You're the One That I Want," and if you care, you were probably watching and already know that Max Crumm and Laura Osnes won.

It was a popular result in our house, where Mary had been rooting for Max all along and gradually came around to prefer Laura. (I don't think she actually voted, however -- that would be almost like losing your amateur standing.)

Me, I wasn't able to see as many shows as she, what with the occasional Sunday evening live play to attend, but in the last few weeks I settled on Derek and Laura as my favorites. Neither Austin nor Max ever seemed to me like Danny material -- Austin was a shade slick and Max is, as others have pointed out, the perfect Doody.

But he'll be an interesting Danny, no doubt, and I take solace (to the extent that yet another revival of "Grease" is actually something you want to get pumped up about) in Kathleen Marshall's saying that he and Laura were the best actors in the final group.

Kathleen is the reason that we watched this, our first ever "reality" show. (She's a Pittsburgher; her parents are our good friends; she grew up with our kids; and she's a real Broadway baby.)

I hated the show's first few weeks, bent on exploiting the haplessness of contestants who didn't seem to have any idea that you actually need talent and training -- not to mention looks and the right apparent age -- to play on Broadway. Both the exploitation and the willingness to be exploited were equally depressing. I guess that's what makes it "real."

But the show got better as it progressed and became less real and more polished. I didn't watch regularly enough to get involved in the competition, but I enjoyed seeing the different songs and production numbers each week. Maybe my favorite was the "All That Jazz" number the week Rob Marshall was the guest panel member -- it was only so-so Fosse, but the kids looked fabulous.

Of course, the show was misleading from the start in always using clips from the 1978 movie as reference points. These kids are going to be on stage, so John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John aren't the right measuring sticks. (Newton-John was never the right choice for Sandy, anyway.)

As hosts, I thought Billy Bush (who is he?) did a capable job, but Denise van Outen (who is she?) was just filler.

As to the judges, Jim Jacobs played the goofball role with obvious aptitude, which added unpredictability to whatever he might say. Locked into the vice-principal/disciplinarian role, David Ian did his best to be crisp and edgy, succeeding to a limited degree.

Kathleen was great in what you'd have to call the guidance counselor role. Even in those early weeks, I was never embarrassed for her -- she was classy, cool, measured and professional. And I assume she had a good deal to do with those production numbers, since she is going to have to work with whomever the voters gave her.

But what about the vote? Did I miss something, or did NBC never actually reveal any totals? Maybe it's on the Web site somewhere, but I couldn't find it. So of course I'm with those who suspect Florida-like hanky-panky, or would, if it were important enough.

What does Antonin Scalia have to say about the balloting? Has it been certified by Katherine Harris? Was Jimmy Carter called in to observe?

But wait, I've buried my lede!

Danny and Sandy aren't big "starring" roles -- "Grease" is really an ensemble show. Rizzo has generally attracted more attention, witness the long list of recycled movie or TV stars in the 1994-98 "Tommy Tune" revival that was actually directed and choreographed by Jeff Calhoun (which makes Kathleen only the second Pittsburgher to take charge of a "Grease" revival).

So I was especially eager for Sunday's introduction of the rest of the Broadway cast. And the one that sparked my interest was the very striking Rizzo, who I discovered is Jenny Powers -- who (drum roll!) we're going to see in Pittsburgh next month at the Public Theater in the world premiere of the Flaherty-Ahrens "The Glorious Ones"!

Powers had to cut out of rehearsals here last weekend to go to L.A. for the TV show, but she's back now. "Grease" doesn't start previews on Broadway until July 24, and it opens Aug. 19.

You can see "Grease" before that, of course. New Brighton High School (Thurs.-Sat.) and Pittsburgh Central Catholic/Oakland Catholic (Thurs.-Sun.) both stage it this weekend.


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