"I beg you for the opportunity. I was up many nights practicing. I beg you for the opportunity." So read a handmade sign carried by a quiet young girl on a cold late October morning as she sat on the pavement outside the Palace Theatre alongside about 300 other aspiring performers.
Simultaneously, about eight males in their late teens to mid-twenties – all clad in black leather jackets with their collars up – mugged for attention in front of a video crew, screaming, "I am Danny Zuko! I am so Danny Zuko! Go, Go Greased Lightning!"
The dynamics and theatricality of the Broadway open audition "cattle call" have certainly changed since dozens of dancers sweated in unison while chanting, "God, I hope I get it!" Though every novice still attends such events with the burning desire to be in what Stephen Sondheim describes as "a great big Broadway show," this particular audition was different. For even if a performer attending this particular audition would not be cast, he or she at least had the golden opportunity of being featured on an NBC reality show.
Following the surprise success of BBC's "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?" — a British reality show to find an actress to play Maria von Trapp for the West End revival of Sound of Music — the two lead actors in the upcoming Broadway revival of Grease!, which opens in June 2007, will be auditioned, tested and cast in front of a television in "You're the One That We Want," a talent competition search where young performers, regardless of previous stage experience, can audition to be the next Danny Zuko or Sandy Dumbrowski.
Tony Award winner Kathleen Marshall (The Pajama Game) will direct and choreograph the new staging as well as judge the competition — along with Grease co-creator Jim Jacobs and theatre producer David Ian. "Today is crazy," director Marshall said while in the theatre before any auditioning or filming began. "And, that's especially because we're in New York. We were in Chicago last week, but to be auditioning for Broadway, on Broadway, at the Palace, makes it extra special."
"It's a big space," Ian said. "We need to see if people can perform in a space such as this."
"Don't forget that Jolson performed here," Jacobs chimed in. "And we all know what a big greaser he was."
"And I believe you were there his opening night, weren't you?" Marshall joked.
"Yes," Jacobs responded. "He was riding Greased Streetcar. We threw hubcaps at him."
Though Equity auditions have already been held for other lead roles, the TV show revolves around three cattle calls taking place in Chicago at the Portage Theatre (Oct. 20), New York City at Broadway's Palace Theatre (Oct. 27) and Venice at Venice High School (Nov. 10). Though the long-running 1990's Broadway revival of Grease! starred adult actors who were mostly in their late twenties to mid-thirties, most of the performers at this audition looked as if they could convincingly play Rydell High School teenagers.
At 8 AM, the doors still had not opened, and the first round of auditioners would not be invited inside until at least 11 AM. Inside the theatre, numerous production crew assistants prepared the bare stage, which had only a small red curtain that glowed with the television show's logo. Outside, the performers continued to warm up vocally, drink endless cups of coffee and compare where and when he or she had already played Danny or Sandy in a high school or dinner theatre production of Grease!.
Twenty-two-year-olds Matt Carpenter and Sara Salvatore, who were situated on line halfway between Seventh and Sixth avenues early in the morning, already played Danny and Sandy in the same Ohio regional theatre.
"This is amazing because I just moved here a week ago from Dallas, Texas," Carpenter said, whose hair was noticeably gelled up.
"I love the movie, I love the show, and I want, want, I want to be Sandy," Salvatore said, who noted that she already attended the revival's Equity audition. "I think everyone can relate to Sandy in some ways. The good girl versus the bad girl side, and being able to play both but not degrading yourself and being true to yourself."
The musical Grease — by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey — debuted on Broadway Feb. 14, 1972, and captured the spirit of audiences with its the 1950's-set all-American love story of two teens from opposite sides of the fence who fall in love one summer only to discover each other again, this time attending Rydell High School. In 1978 "Grease" became "the word" with a popular feature-film adaptation starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John as the lovelorn leads. A Broadway revival played as recently as 1994-1998. The new Broadway production will feature the Jacobs-Casey songs made famous by the original play including "Summer Nights," "Greased Lightning" and "We Go Together."