By Krank Mills
Previously on Grease: Open cattle calls. Some people were good (though in all honesty, I can’t remember a single great performance), some were meh, but pretty (I’m looking right at you, Ashley Anderson), but mostly people sucked. And sucked. Aaaand sucked.
Today’s episode opens with the final 48 getting off yellow school busses at Grease Academy. My question is, where did they get on those busses? The powers-that-be have gone in such a weird direction for this TV show. This Grease Academy we’ve been hearing so much about for the past two weeks is an actual school somewhere that production has high-jacked and turned into a Broadway-star training facility. First-class all the way. The nervous energy is palpable as all the potential Sandy’s and Danny’s wonder what they’ve gotten themselves into.Hey, remember the judges? There’s Broadway director Kathleen Marshall. Good to see they’re no longer calling her a Tony-winning Broadway director, since she won Tony’s for choreographing Wonderful Town and The Pajama Game, but no directing Tony’s as yet. (And I’m going to go out on a limb and predict she’s not going to get one for this.)
Also judging is “super-producer” David Ian. Their words, not mine. And last but not least is Grease creator and writer, Jim Jacobs. Guys, he knew the original Sandy, ok? That totally validates his seemingly useless presence.
As Billy Bush tells us in a voice-over, Grease Academy will train these newbies in singing, acting and dancing to be a “triple-threat.” During some quick shots of the classes, we get to see Kathleen Marshall, Tony-Award winning choreographer, at work. “Bah dum dum dum,” she says as she demonstrates the steps. Tony-winner at work. Fascinating. Not!
So I don’t know if you can tell by my tone, but I’m annoyed with this show. I was so excited for it because I thought we were going to get to see what goes on behind the scenes as they prepare to mount a big-budget Broadway revival. Instead we’re focusing on (i.e. creating) the personal stories of all these nobodies. Who cares? They’re nobodies! I want to see Kathleen Marshall being a bitch! I want to see some creative process! Directing! Actiiiiing!
Billy Bush promises Grease Academy will push the potential Danny’s and Sandy’s to their limit. Lie. We should have seen waaay more crying this episode (besides after being cut) if they’re really being pushed to their limits. Come on, a campus filled with theater people? There should totally be more crying. And catfights.
In Danny dance rehearsal the editors juxtapose “Former Days of Our Lives actor,” Austin Miller, with his wonderful extension, and “Ice Cream Store Manager,” Vince Ortiz, who clearly has no dance training. Austin tells us he played Link Larkin on the Hairspray tour and that there’s a level of polish and professionalism that comes with experience. Yeah you get polish and professionalism, but in Austin’s case you also get an aura of homosexuality the audience can read from the last row of the balcony along the wall.
Over in Sandy singing rehearsal, Ashley Anderson is singing poorly. She’s the girl who cracked twice in her initial auditions, but was kept on because Jim Jacobs said she looked like his idea of Sandy. Whatever, you’re casting a Broadway show, not a movie. You can put almost any vaguely pretty girl on stage in full makeup and a wig and she’ll look like Sandy. And Ashley still sucks. Her voice is weak and has pitch problems. It’s probably from nerves, but if she can’t sing in a room full of people, I don’t know how she’ll handle singing in front of a 1500+ person audience. Have fun waitressing for the rest of your life, choker!
We also see Juliana Hansen, a 23-year-old office temp that we’re suddenly caring about because she’s going to make it through to the next round (um, spoiler?) while some of the girls we’ve been following thus far (AhemAshelyAndersonAhem) will not. I like her cause she’s a brunette, and as a brunette, I clearly think she is superior to all those blondes.
So we’ve seen the dancing and the singing classes, now it’s time for acting! All the potential Danny’s and Sandy’s are paired up into co-ed scene studies, doing that Classic (so my TV tells me and thus is true) Scene from the movie version: Danny and Sandy on a date at the drive-in. Again, disappointingly, we see no shots of any sort of directing or, frankly, acting going on, but we do get a semi-amusing reel of bad acting from potential Danny’s. God, I’d be terrified if I were Kathleen Marshall and this were really the pool of talent I had to choose from.
Jim Jacobs mentions they’re looking for a Sandy and Danny combination with chemistry. Mmm, I love me some onstage chemistry. Last year’s Pajama Game, as directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall, really benefited from great chemistry between its leads. Despite the fact that Harry Connick, Jr. has the acting talents of a log of wood, seeing him onstage opposite Kelli O’Hara was just so sexy. Plus there was Harry Connick Jr.’s naked, beefy torso. Mmmm, beef and torso.
Aaaanyways… back to Grease… We’re now treated to the Sandy’s in dance class. Ashley Spencer fills us in on her classical ballet dance training. She’s a teacher’s pet and demonstrates some steps to 19-year-old untrained “actress” Jacqueline Petzel, who’s clearly not moving on to the final 12, since this is the last we see of her this episode.
We switch back to the boys, now in singing rehearsal, and… it is not in tune. The boy who got dumped after the auditions in New York is particularly not on pitch, but he’s certainly not the only one. Jim Jacob’s says he’s worried, no one’s jumping out as the next Elvis. Um, he does know he’s casting Grease and not Bye, Bye, Birdie, right?
The next day we pick up with David Ian, back from some urgent budget meetings (yeah, that’s seriously what they told us), having a private singing session with Ashley Anderson, or as I like to call her, The Choker. Which is exactly what she proceeds to do, cracking on the same note she did in her original auditions. Then she breaks down crying and can’t continue. Aaah, there’s the crazy aspiring actress I was expecting to see more of: Over-dramatic, screaming for attention, and not quite as talented as she thinks she is.
I’d totally can her ass right now, but David Ian is more forgiving, telling her to go outside and collect herself before coming back inside and singing it right. In an interview where she’s STILL crying she says she doesn’t want to go back to New York and wait tables, she wants to be an actress – so bad! Ah, The Cliché! How surprised I am that I haven’t seen more of you.
Speaking of crushed dreams, here’s a group of three potential Danny’s, now friends and dubbed “The Trio.” They met at the original auditions in LA and are now best buds – just like the T-Birds! They know it’s a contest, and all three comment on the fact that every day the competition gets more fierce. Oh no, will their friendship be torn asunder by the RUTHLESSNESS of SHOW BUSINESS?
Kathleen Marshall interviews that taking a completely untrained person and getting them ready to perform on Broadway 8 nights a week and not embarrass both themselves and her is a very tall order. Which is why they’re clearly not going to cast someone untrained, just unknown . For example Austin Miller. He must have an Equity (the actors’ union) card if he was on tour with Hairspray so it’s not that they’re necessarily looking with absolutely no experience.
This does not bode well for Matt Nolan, the soccer-playing, 1950′s loving jock from Long Island we met in the first round of auditions. He’s a 22-year-old sports marketing executive that’s exactly like every guy I’ve ever met any Murray Hill bar. He also cannot sing in tune. They commented on the fact that he had no training in his original audition, but passed him on to see how he’d do with a little training. Can you teach intonation?
David Ian stops him during their one-on-one session and tells him, basically, to stop sucking, and that he’s coming across “nervous” and “green” when he should come across as a “rock star” and “sex on legs.” Um, gross. What would that even look like? Now I can’t stop trying to figure it out. David Ian gives Matt a little lesson on what cool is, and then tells him to go get into his leader-of-the-pack character in the corner, and come back and sing it and let go. Matt comes back with more attitude which genuinely makes his performance 100 times better, but he’s still not singing in tune. Matt feels good about it, though, and that counts for, well, nothing really.
Now it’s time to make some cuts. Ooh, they’re cutting half the contestant pool. Intense! In a sing-off. Not so intense. So all 48 of the newbies have to “sing for their lives” in the gym of this school and it’s not quite the most compelling television I’ve ever seen. They pretend this sing-off is what’s determining who goes on and who stays, but David Ian clearly looks at a piece of paper in his hand before every cut and it’s pretty obvious it’s a list of who’s staying and who’s going.
The newbies start dropping like flies, and though some take it well, most cry. Hey guys, have you seen Carrie? Just remember, you could be having a worse time in a high school gym. Dominic Fortuna, or as I like to call him, Old Danny, is shocked he got cut and thinks that the thousands of people he’s performed for before will be too. I don’t know, I’m pretty shocked he’s there to begin with.
Among the notables, or as I like to call them not-ables, that got cut this round: the boy who got dumped in New York, who’s now all up in that black girl who was never going to be Sandy but the judges wouldn’t cut her because they didn’t want to look racist’s grill. Methinks someone is trying to make his ex-girlfriend (more) jealous! Also, did all these shots of crying teenagers hugging each other outside a school make anyone else think of news footage from some horrific school shooting? Seriously, go back and watch it on mute and tell me that’s not what it looks like.
Back in the gym, David Ian finally tells them they can stop singing and gives the money line: “Somewhere in this room I’m looking at Sandy and Danny.” Among the notables who got through: The Choker, Austin Miller, and The Trio. To celebrate making it to the next round, all 24 of them sing that Rama-Lama-Shoo-Bop song like the big bunch of musical theater dorks they are. (I’m not judging, I am too. A song from Spring Awakening is the ringtone on my cell phone.)
Next up for the newbies: Preparing for an exclusive showcase for theater-critics and a star-studded crowd. Yeah, somehow I think you’d be hard pressed to find Frank Rich or David Rooney at that showcase. Hell, you’d be hard pressed to find Clive Barnes! (Rimshot and random New York theater critic reference! Two for one, up high!) As for star-studded, I see Marilou Henner, Marissa Jaret Winouker and Jai Rodriguez. Someone at NBC has a broke-ass star bedazzler.
So now everyone is in single-sex groups of four, singing a pop song that relates to Danny or Sandy’s emotional journey, as staged by Kathleen Marshall. One of those songs? Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated.” I officially want to punch this show in the face. Seriously, as much as the juke-box musical has a huge presence on Broadway, there is nothing legit theater people hate more than pop music anywhere near Broadway. But I guess this show has shown is that they’re not going for a theater crowd, but rather, trying to bring TV watchers to theater. I can argue about the pros and cons of that for hours, so let’s move on, shall we?
The groups rehearse vocally and go over their staging with Kathleen Marshall. During the rehearsal for one group of potential Danny’s, David Ian pulls Max Crumm (my personal favorite) to have a talk with him about his look. They’re concerned because he came to Grease Academy committing the cardinal sin of having long hair and forgetting hair gel. David Ian’s flat top judges Max Crumm’s floppy, pseudo-hipster haircut. What a bitch. David Ian reiterates to Max that the judges have no imagination, so if he’s not walking around looking like Danny 24/7, they just can’t believe he could accurately play Danny on Broadway.
In an effort to drum up even more drama than Max Crumm’s hair dilemma, we are introduced to new BFFs, Cara Hille and Ashley Spencer. They met in line in LA and now wear vials of each other’s blood around their necks, that’s how serious this friendship is. Blood sisters! Plus, they’re both cocktail waitresses when not acting, and that’s a bond that doesn’t just happen. Cara admires Ashley and marvels at the way she can learn the music right away. Since they’ve just been introduced as BFFs, one of them is clearly going home at the end of this episode and her name rhymes with Bara Gille.
Time for the showcase! After more “stars” filter in the show begins. We see Billy Bush for the first time this episode. Good, I was starting to think he’d developed some facial deformity, rendering him suitable for voiceover work only. He introduces the 24 finalists who, at the end of the night will only be 12. After a 15-second, pointless group dance number we get into the nitty-gritty.
The first group of girls includes The Choker, who is nervous and shaky, as usual. Way to blow your last chance, choker. The other girls, Kate Rockwell, Juliana Hansen, and Laura Osnes, were pretty good, and as the four of them sing all together it becomes clear that Ashley is totally the weakest performer up there. Why did the show choose to follow her story line to begin with? Oh yeah, cause she’s pretty.
Next up is a group of Danny’s. Among them are Max Crumm, looking suitably like Danny. The judges buy his commitment from the beginning. Reed Prescott just plain sucks, Nathaniel Flatt reads waaaay too gay (what’s with the falsetto?) and Dick Keeling is pretty good. For a moment, I thought I was listening to the Miss Saigon soundtrack. That wasn’t some kind of weird race joke that fell flat, it just really sounded like he was from Miss Saigon. As they all sing together in harmony it sounds just AWFUL and I wonder what’s up with the guys’ serious intonation issues.
Next up is a group of potential Sandy’s singing that aberration of a song, “Complicated,” by Avril Lavigne. Among this group are Kelli LaValle, Sarah Darling, Kathleen Monteleone and Alexandra Fassler. The voice over asks whether 17-year-old Kelli can hold her own against more seasoned performers like 23-year-old hussy, Kathleen. (You can tell she’s a hussy from the red lipstick and the tone of the voiceover totally implies she is.) What kind of song is this to sing at a showcase?!
Next is a group of Danny’s including Nick Dalton, George Pellegrino, Matt Nolan and Chad Doreck. They all basically shout the song, but Chad gives Kathleen Marshall a little of The Eye as he sings and she giggles like a school girl. That’s how you get ahead in show biz, kid! You’re looking at a star! Matt Nolan makes up for what he lacks in intonation with lots of volume. What does he need two mikes for? Ugh, this whole group is so loud, like they went to the Idina Menzel School of Singing. (Zing!)
Another group of Danny’s and another group of Sandy’s sing unmemorably before we get to the final eliminations. Some of those that made it in include the hussy who outsang Kelli, a Heidi Montag look-a-like, the teacher from the trio, brunette Juliana, and Austin Miller. Kelli is out, as is the one remaining black girl, who could have totally pulled off being a color-blind-cast Sandy and had one of the better voices of the women there, but what do I know?
As I suspected, the last girl spot comes down to BFFs Ashley Spencer and Cara Hille, and Cara is out. Another friendship ruined by SHOWBIZ! The final boy slot comes down to either jock Matt Nolan who can’t sing, but looks the part, or hipster Max Crumm who the judges think is one of the stronger singers, but don’t necessarily see him as a Danny. But talent trumps looks for once and Matt Nolan is sent back to a life of ridicule by his frat brothers after 1) he confessed a secret love for musical theater, 2) is now crying over musical theater. It’s totally cute though, probably the sweetest genuine moment I’ve seen on this show as he tries to understand the tragedy that has just befallen him. “Maybe they just didn’t think I was ready. I thought I was ready,” he sniffles. Awwwww. So while it’s back to waiting tables and a life of anonymity for some, we have our twelve finalists – OR DO WE – DUN DUN DUN!
So what did you think of who’s going through to the next round? Do you think Max Crumm makes a believable Danny? Will the boys ever be able to sing in tune? Think we’ll see more crying next week? And just how big a train wreck will this Broadway revival be?