It's finally happened. Broadway has come to reality shows.
First, London had "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?," where the British viewing audience voted on the actress (Connie Fisher) currently playing Maria von Trapp in the London revival of The Sound of Music. Now, there's "You're the One That I Want," the new show that will lead to the casting of the roles of Danny and Sandy for the second revival of Grease, due to bow on Broadway this summer.
Once the finalists are chosen, viewers can call the show and vote for their favorite Danny and Sandy "American Idol"-style. Okay, let's first get the ethical questions out of the way. Yes, it's not the way Broadway should be cast. Yes, the director should always have final say. And, yes, reality shows have taken over TV, pushing out fine sitcoms like "Joey" (anybody?). But there's not much difference between viewers voting for the leads in a Broadway show and a producer casting TV stars with questionable talent just because their names will sell tickets. Also, if they keep this TV realistic enough, viewers will be impressed by seeing how much talent you need to be in a Broadway show; i.e., you have to act, dance and sing. Not flash your privates, hump suggestively and lip-synch (though all of those things have been seen on Broadway).
Anyhoo, considering the disrespect that Broadway has gotten from "American Idol" (judge Simon Cowell has begged that the show discontinue their Broadway-themed week, and his greatest insult is telling someone that they sound "Broadway"), it's good that The Great White Way is getting some well-earned respect. Hosting the show are Broadway vets Billy Bush and Denise Van Outen, and by "Broadway Vets" I mean, I have no idea why they are hosting. The judges include:
• David Ian, who produced the London revival of Grease in the early nineties. He says he took out a second mortgage to finance the show but wound up making millions. He is also producing the new revival.
•Jim Jacobs, who co-wrote Grease with Warren Casey and based it on their high school peers.
•Kathleen Marshall, Tony Award-winning director/choreographer whose credits include Seussical, Wonderful Town, Pajama Game and Kiss Me, Kate.
The first episode showed the auditions in L.A. and Chicago. Each Danny or Sandy candidate came in and sang around 20 seconds of a song from Grease or one of their own choosing, backfiring terribly when a legit soprano sang a snoozefest in head voice. That is my only comment of that kind because what this show features, in the tradition of "American Idol" and "So You Think You Can Dance," is bad auditions with the hope that viewers will feel a schadenfreude-like thrill as we watch the judges laughing and making sassy comments. My opinion is that I'd love to hear Jim Jacobs belt out "Hopelessly Devoted to You" and hear my comments.
Which reminds me, the Weissler Grease! revival was not afforded the rights to any of the additional songs written for the movie ("Sandy," "Grease [Is the Word]," "Hopelessly Devoted to You" and "You're the One That I Want"). Since "You're the One That I want" is the title of the show, I'm using my deductive reasoning powers to infer that this production has secured those rights.
After the contestants sang, they were then told whether or not they were being asked to stay and dance, or, according to the British David Ian, "dahnce." After that round, the contestant would step forward, and they were either sent home or to semi-finals at the Grease Academy (the Sound of Music casting show had "Maria School"). Oh, and in the tradition of "You're fired" and "The tribe has spoken," they were told their fate with either "You're the one that we want" or "You're…not Danny/Sandy."
Here's my recap: Most Likely Sandy So Far: Ashley, the first girl to sing. She's a cocktail waitress who saved her wages for a week to get to the audition, and she looked and sounded the most Sandy-ish to me. Brava!
Most Weissler-Like Danny: In the tradition of casting the leads 20-plus years above the actual age of the character (Debbie Boone was Rizzo during part of my tenure at Grease!), 42-year-old Dominick was called back for the role of Danny.
Most Fun Broadway Spotting: During the dance auditions, you can see Broadway gypsy Joyce Chittick teaching the sassy steps.
Most Devastating Loss: Alex from Chicago was up for Danny, and I was obsessed with him because he did a Judy Garland impression before he auditioned with a great fast vibrato. He was "ixnayed" after the dance call. Hmmm, maybe if The Boy From Oz is revived and Isabel Keating is busy. . .
One of the aspiring Sandys said that the world is now ready for a Latina Sandy. The world actually was ready when Susan Moniz played Sandy opposite John Secada when I did Grease! back in the mid-nineties. (P.S., she was great!)
Next week's auditions take place in New York City, and my recap will follow. My friend Tim is hoping that this show will become a hit and the Fiddler on the Roof reality show will be seen next season: "America's Next Top Motel."
[Seth Rudetsky is the host of "Seth's Big Fat Broadway" on SIRIUS Satellite Radio and the author of "The Q Guide to Broadway." For two years Rudetsky was the pianist/assistant conductor for the 1994 revival of Grease!. He can be contacted by visiting www.sethsbroadwaychatterbox.com.]