The ones 'Grease' didn't want
January 6, 2007
BY MIRIAM DI NUNZIO Staff Reporter
Do you have chills? Are they multiplyin'? Are you losin' control?
Then you should have auditioned for the new reality show "Grease: You're the One That I Want," debuting at 7 p.m. Sunday on WMAQ-Channel 5, and put all that singing, dancing and acting to good use.
That's precisely what hundreds of local actors, dancers, housewives, teachers, students and others did in October when the NBC show's judges came to town looking for the next Broadway-bound Sandy and Danny.
One of the judges, Jim Jacobs, was the musical's co-writer. He and a high school buddy, the late Warren Casey, based "Grease" on their teen years at Taft High School on the Northwest Side, and he was excited about holding auditions in the town where it all began.
But Chicago let him down.
"I was looking for a good Polish-Italian kid from the Northwest Side," Jacobs said Friday, referring to his ideal Chicago Danny. "And a girl who went to Resurrection [High School] or Immaculata [High School] for Sandy. I wanted real neighborhood kids at the Chicago auditions. We really didn't get 'em. Over all, I was really disappointed. And I don't think I would have felt that way had there been more [pre-event] publicity about the auditions. There was just no real buzz in Chicago, not compared to Los Angeles and New York."
Portage found lacking
He wasn't all that thrilled, either, by the audition site, the 86-year-old Portage Theater on Milwaukee Avenue.
"Why they chose the Portage Theater is beyond me. I grew up in that neighborhood, don't get me wrong. I took my first date to a movie back in the '60s to the Portage. But I really wanted someplace downtown, like the Chicago Theatre or Navy Pier, where we would just get thousands of kids, all kinds of kids to show up. They insisted the Portage looked vintage 1950s, but I just don't think it was the right location for this.
"In the end, we walked away with only eight kids from Chicago, which is really disappointing when you realize we picked 26 in Los Angeles and 23 in New York." Long shelf life
Seems the "Grease" phenomenon is still going strong more than 30 years after it debuted on Broadway. Jacobs said Casey summed it all up quite succinctly some years back. "Warren used to always say that 'Grease' was like the Energizer Bunny, it just keeps going and going," Jacobs said with a laugh.
Though "Grease" was a huge success on Broadway, most people fell in love with the musical via the 1978 film that starred Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta as the Rydell High School sweethearts -- Sandy the virginal cheerleader and Danny Zucko the greaser.
The reality show brings the musical into the 21st century by asking America to choose the actors who will play Sandy and Danny in a Broadway production set to hit the boards later this year.
Much like "American Idol," "You're the One That I Want" begins with taped auditions of Danny and Sandy wannabes from the open calls in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Contestants then faced the show's panel of judges, including Jacobs, Tony-winning director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall and British stage impresario David Ian.
In the end, 57 finalists were chosen and sent to "Grease Camp" in Pasadena, Calif., where they will be put through the paces (it takes a lot of hard work to become a Pink Lady or a T-Bird) and narrowed to 12 finalists.
Some stage producers and directors have scoffed at "You're the One That I Want," but there is precedent for such a talent search. In England, Ian was the producer behind the BBC reality show "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria," which searched England for the next Maria in the London Palladium production of "The Sound of Music."
"They got a lot of criticism over there with their show, but I think it was all sour grapes," Jacobs said. "When that show hit the BBC, the pre-sale tickets for 'Sound of Music' went through the roof." Talent wins out
Jacobs said viewers need to understand that the show's winner must have the chops to make it on Broadway, eight shows a week, six nights a week. That means talent trumps pretty much everything, including looks.
"We want the best dancer-actor-singer," he said. "If the best Sandy is a brunet, will put a blond wig on her. The very first Broadway 'Sandy' was a brunet actress. If Danny's hair isn't dark enough, we'll adjust that too. I'm looking for a guy and girl who can dance and sing their hearts out and be strong actors on top of all that. I'm looking for a girl who oozes sweetness and a guy who is a macho greaser. This show isn't about finding someone who looks like Olivia and John. I really hope people understand that when they're voting."
Here's hoping America doesn't disappoint Jacobs, too.