The Broadway revival of Grease! has played host to a growing number of guest stars, including the current Sheena Easton. To recognize their contributions, the producers opened the "Grease! Hall of Fame" Oct. 7 in New York.
A site of nostalgia and memorabilia, the "hall" is inside the Eugene O'Neill Theatre, where the revival of Grease! has been running since May 11, 1994 and just marked its 1,000th performance. Come Feb. 6, 1997, Grease will become, after Oh! Calcutta!, the longest running revival in Broadway history, surpassing the 1992 production of Guys And Dolls.
"Why Do Fools Fall In Love" played on the loudspeaker as journalists and fans entered the space, formerly called the 50's Cafe, where Grease! audiences queued up for pre-show and intermission refreshments. Refreshments for this event included green (apple-flavored) bubble gum, popcorn and deli sandwiches provided by the Java Shop.
Breaking away from the preparations for the noon grand opening, I wandered into the O'Neill Theatre itself and caught "assistant musical person" Fred Barton and dance captain Brian Paul Mendoza, rehearsing the new Danny Zuko, Vincent Tumeo. Of Mendoza, Barton graciously noted, "no one goes through Grease! without going through BP [Brian Paul]!"
Dark-haired Tumeo is coming off two years as Artie in Sunset Boulevard (Artie's the best friend and Betty's fiance). "Artie" isn't a vocally challenging role," admitted Tumeo, "whereas here I get to go all over my vocal register."
Barton, who works constantly in Grease! because there are so many replacements and guest stars coming and going, did give Playbill On-Line a scoop: at the beginning of the new year, following Tracy Nelson in the role of Rizzo will be Jasmine Guy, star of "The Cosby Show" and "A Different World."
Heading back to the party, I caught up with Bruce Morrow, aka WCBS-FM radio deejay, Cousin Brucie. His presence at the event was more than mere nostalgia (CBS plays oldies, with an emphasis on 50's doo-wop): "I played Vince Fontaine for two weeks," he recalled. "And Fontaine was based on me, the chicks, the craziness, that was my life." In later remarks to the press, producer Barry Weissler hinted that Morrow might return in the role of the pre-show narrator around holiday time.
"I love the show, it's great fun," said Morrow, "but it's such hard work! I lost 10 pounds in two weeks, and now I have so much more respect for actors and what they go through."
For a different take on the actor's life, I sidled up to Leslie Riddle, an effervescent blonde woman wearing the afternoon's most startling getup: a giant coffee cup and saucer. She said she'd never actually seen Grease! but was, indeed, a theatre person, having done West Side Story in Europe and Cats in Tokyo. (After observing her move around the room, I decided no dance combination in either show could have been as challenging as simply trying to squeeze through a doorway dressed as a giant latte...).
But my attention was diverted from caffeine by the sight of tall, blond Jeff Calhoun, director and choreographer of Grease, talking to Barry Zabusky of Manhattan Cable TV's "Barry Z Show." Asked the reasons for Grease!'s success, Calhoun joked that Grease! is "the `Love Boat' of Broadway musicals."
He pointed to the walls of the Hall and the pictures of literally dozens of stars who've appeared in Grease's Broadway revival.
"Of all the Rizzos you've worked with," asked Barry Z, "which was your favorite?"
Not surprisingly, Calhoun took the Fifth, but he did say flat-out that Brooke Shields was "the easiest to work with. To meet her is to love her."
I later spoke to Calhoun and asked how often he checks in on Grease!. "I'm heavily involved with the casting, and I go to every audition," he said. "I'm also there every time a new star comes in, so it takes up quite a bit of time. We're also involved in putting together a Vegas company after the New Year, and a sit-down company in Los Angeles." [A sit-down company is a resident, long-term troupe as opposed to a tour.]
L.A. is taking up much of Calhoun's time now -- but not theatrically. "You can't really do commercial theatre at a 99-seat, Equity Waiver house. I mean, I did [John Godber's play] Bouncers at the Tiffany, which won an L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award. But in the spring I'll be there directing sitcoms. Jay Sandrich -- he did the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" -- he's been a big help getting me set up in television out there."
Calhoun did say he was working on a couple of new "contemporary" musicals but wouldn't elaborate on content or time-frame.
With his sharp-shorn beard and trademark glare of intensity, producer Barry Weissler began the official ceremony, acknowledging his wife and partner, Fran, and Jujamcyn co-producer, Rocco Landesman (in trademark casual wear, including a blue Grease jacket and St. Louis Cardinals t-shirt).
Before handing microphone to Cousin Brucie, Barry Weissler read congratulatory notices from stars who couldn't attend the shindig. Rosie O'Donnell, the first revival Rizzo, wrote: "It was a dream of mine to star on Broadway; you made that dream come true. Now I'm on TV, so if you need anything..."
Referring to his pictures on the wall, Jon Secada wrote, "Thanks for hanging me up." Brooke Shields wrote, "Andre [Agassi] and I had so much fun doing Grease!."
"I'm not sure what Andre was doing..." Weissler joshed, "but she was great."
Slipping into that well-known Cousin Brucie patter, Bruce Morrow hyped Grease as a show of "emotion. Grease! is emotion. Grease! is the word."
He then introduced "the lovely, the talented" Adrian Zmed, who played Danny Zucco on Broadway and is not doing it on the road. "Sally Struthers and I just drove up from Baltimore, and we start tomorrow in Norfolk [Virginia]. Grease! is popular because everyone can find somebody on that stage to relate to. Adults who get the nostalgia, kids who've seen the video [of the John Travolta/Olivia Newton John film] two hundred times. It's a cult thing, too; we call Saturday and Sunday matinees the Kiddie Shows, because there are kids five and six years old dressed up like little Dannys and Sandys."
It was then time for the arrival of Sally Struthers, who played Miss Lynch, the principal, on Broadway and is now continuing the role on tour. "It's an accessible score and easy to sing," Struthers said of the musical. "And except for `Rama-lama-ding-dong," it's easy to remember!"
Cousin Brucie then greeted the arrival of petite and lovely Sheena Easton with "those eyes are perfect!"
Before Easton could blush, Zmed kidded, "just remember, he called me lovely and talented."
Easton did discuss the fine points of the two different musicals she's done on Broadway. "In Man Of La Mancha you don't have a hula hoop. With Grease! I've even invented a new step for the hula -- I drop it."
With all the guest stars announced, Cousin Brucie then swept across the room, pointing out the pictures in the Hall Of Fame. First came the special "Monkee" section, for both Mickey Dolenz and Davey Jones have appeared in the musical. Then came the Brooke Wing, featuring stills from such Brooke Shields films as "Pretty Baby" and "The Blue Lagoon."
Easton's eyes stared from the opposite wall at a photo of President Bill Clinton wearing a leopard skin jacket and joking with the Grease cast.
After Struthers and Easton helped cut the big pink ribbon to officially open the Grease! Hall Of Fame, the party quickly petered out, though I did manage to chat with Douglas Crawford, who plays Kenickie. "It's been a great opportunity to meet and work with all these celebrities," he said. "We don't profess that Grease! is one of the greatest of the great musicals. But it's fun. It's got a built-in audience, and lots of people come to see it five, six times."
Grease, a 50's-style rock `n' roll musical, was written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. The touring production opens in Norfolk, VA, Oct. 8.
-- By David Lefkowitz