As you know, I now have reflux. Not cool. Well, just to add to my over-the hillness, my doctor advised to me to add more fiber to my diet, so I watched this week's episode with my signature large bowl of cereal. But this time, instead of my new obsession Waffle Crisp, which literally tastes like waffles in syrup, I had Good Friends High Fiber Cereal, which brags about being a "trio of flakes, twigs and granola." Why would you admit to having twigs in the mix? Are you marketing to beavers? The new guy I'm dating noted that the two people whose photograph grace the cover of the cereal box are decidedly over 50. What happened to eight-year-old Mikey? Is this now my life? Should I be disappointed that no one asked me to be in the Encores! production of Follies? Did Mimi Hines steal my role? Anyway, let me put my walker down and recount this week's episode.
It began with a passive-aggressive bang as co-host Billy Bush said, "Welcome to the live finals" as a chyron underneath him blatantly upstaged him with "portions pre-recorded." If it's live, how can it be pre-recorded?
This week's episode began with a salute to Hershey Park's "I Heart the Fifties" show. The final six sang "Rock and Roll is here to stay." As usual, the keys for the men were set on Paul Robeson. Haven't the producer's read my column? Don't they know that when the men start singing lower than the last note in "I'm Not That Girl," I'm gonna complain? The good news is, I'm always a sucker for a high kick, and Ashley gave me a full 180. Not to be outdone, Austin showed us he's also got a flexible gam. The guys began the song, and then the girls, totally out of breath, were forced to sing after an energetic dance break. Why is that always the case with ladies? Lola has to do it in Damn Yankees (dance break then "I always ge-e-e-e-e-e-et!!!!"), Cassie has to do it A Chorus Line (Dance break, then "Pla-a-a-a-a-ay me the music…") Then again, women get juicy roles like Elphaba and Mame, and we're stuck playing Magaldi and Frid.
Denise Van Outen was wearing a pretty dress, but upon closer inspection seemed to made of crepe paper. Isn't that a fire hazard? The final two Sandys, Ashley and Laura, were chosen, and Allie was told that she's leaving. In a brilliant example of playing against your subtext, Allie said "It's a big letdown" with an enormous smile on her face. Brava, Ms. Hagen! There was a video montage showing highlights of her throughout the competition, and during the clip where she was singing, they decided to play musical underscoring in a completely different key giving "Hopelessly Devoted to You" a Sondheim-ian spin. The biggest shocker to me was the final two Dannys. They're both the most physically unlikely ones from the competition, blond Austin and goofy Max. The studly Derek was ixnayed and I assume is on the red eye flight to my apartment as we speak.
|photo by NBC|
Then Laura and Ashley sang "Hopelessly Devoted to You" and divided up the parts. This was the most theatrical thing that's been on the show, and I wish more of the episodes could have been like this. They were on a set, with props, singing a theatrical song in context, not showing us their audition for the Luxor. Laura has a great voice, but I found her phrasing too legato. I wasn't used to hearing "Guess mi-i-i-i-ine is not the fi-i-i-i-irst…heart bro-ke-e-e-e-e-e-en…" As usual, I loved Ashley's voice. She sounded amazing on the high "ted" of "hopelessly devoted to you…" After the song Laura said that her wedding was supposed to be next weekend, but she's postponed it. My question is, did she postpone it without knowing she was going to be in the finals? Because it would have been amazing to be spending your supposed-to-be wedding day at home watching two other girls compete for the role you wanted. That could have turned her into a latter-day Miss Haversham with a high belt. There was a video played of her fiance saying he missed her and then one of Ashley's sister wishing Ashley luck and saying she was sorry she couldn't be there, but she couldn't afford the plane fare. Turns out, her sister was able to get there because members of the "Grease" message board paid for her ticket. Attention, "Grease" fans, I can't afford a trainer twice a week. Anybody? On a side note, I cannot tell Billy Bush's height. He's as tall as Laura, but Ashley is taller than he is. Is Ashley 5'6", and he's 5'5"? Is he 6'7", and she's 6'8"? They're always standing together on a blank stage. Why can't they stand next to something whose height is known by all? Like Tommy Tune or Baayork Lee?
Max and Austin then sang "Sandy," and Austin made it his own by adding a new riff on "Oh Sandy, baby . . . someday" that featured a double turn (not pirouette, a vocal double turn). Max, as usual, had great acting chops and sounded excellent. He does the actor-y thing of phrasing songs differently then they normally go because he's in the moment, but I never feel that it sacrifices the musicality of the song. After they sang, there was a video about them as children, and Austin pulled out the ol' "I want to win it for the ten-year-old fat kid inside me" chestnut while showing a picture of himself as said ten-year-old-fat kid. I definitely had him beat fat-wise as a child, but he had me beat in terms of glasses choice. Who picked those oversized picture windows he wore back then? Jiminy Glick?
Max trumped the fat kid photo by talking about his bout with Bells Palsy that he had in fifth grade. Half his face was paralyzed, and he had to learn how to move it again. He said the comments about him not being like the other Dannys and not being good looking enough hurt him because he had to try so hard to be normal when he was younger. Sorry, Austin. Even though Billy Bush revealed that there was less than a one percent difference in votes between Max and Austin, it's a known fact that chubbiness is trumped by facial paralysis. Next week the margin could be wide.
Then, in a non-intentional tribute to eighties proms, the couples sang "Endless Love" and "(I Had) the Time of My Life." The only thing missing was "Somewhere Out There." Come on! Where were the theatrical duets? "You Must Meet My Wife"? "Waltz for Eva and Che"? The first couples were Ashley and Austin, and Max and Laura. Ashley and Austin smooched at the end of their verse, and by "smooch" I mean re-created the beginning of "Short Bus." Contrasting that, the smooch Max and Laura pecked to each other after they sang would have made Mother Teresa look like a tramp. Both couples were told they were being judged on chemistry, and I felt it all seemed a little pushed. A lot of touching, gazing, lips an inch apart: I felt like I was on the subway standing next to two teenagers who just started dating. Suffice it to say, I took a quick shower during the commercial break.
Oh yeah, Billy Bush announced that tickets were on sale at GreaseonBroadway.com, but though it says performances begin July 24, it still says theatre to be announced. Well, if they can get away with that, I'd like to invite you all to my debut in a starring role on Broadway. Show, role and theatre TBA. See you next week for the big finale!
[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.]