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Who's the One That They Want?

January 11, 2007 By:
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The Broadway version of "Where's Waldo"?
Well, it's not like they're casting for "Yidl Mitn Fidl."

After all, "Grease" -- not gevalt -- is the word.

But the producers of Broadway's upcoming revival of the 35-year-old musical -- certainly older than any greaser worth his lair of lard these days -- are unctuously devoted to making their own kind of music by staging a coup de duck tail: "Grease: You're the One That I Want" is what any Broadway fan has wanted -- a chance to choose the stars. This Broadway idyll is now under way, as Danny and Sandy wannabes strut their stuff and slick their styles before TV audiences on Sunday nights, on NBC, hoping "Grease" lightning will be theirs.

Summer lovin' ... winter cuddlin'? Will audiences cuddle up to the warmth of what is essentially a Broadway tryout? In the tried- and-true tradition of other reality shows, the votes won't be in ... until the votes are in.

Audiences, cowled in the past to do the right thing, will be judging and voting on the leads of the new revival, to be directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall, a major player in the game, whose last effort, "The Pajama Game," led to a Tony Award for choreography.

In this series she steps into the role of judge as do Jim Jacobs, co-creator of "Grease" in 1971; and prolific producer David Ian, one of England's most esteemed theatrical entrepreneurs also producing this revival.

Can Marshall generate some steam heat like she did with "Pajama Game"? Will Jacobs, a self-described greaser when he co-wrote the show, put the pomade moves on the past? And can a man with two first names, who started his career in the title role of "The Rocky Horror Show" -- playing Rocky, not the horror -- demonstrate why the Stage Web site in London hails him as one hell of a producer?

And, after their stint in Grease Academy -- just imagine the lunch menu -- learning the moves and the music, will those auditioning finally be able to stand up and proclaim: "Look at me, I'm Sandra Dee!" (Hopefully not for those trying out for Danny.)

More than the others, the jocular Jacobs was born to hand-jive. After all, he was just a 19-year-old with barely enough drive-in experience to drive a musical production. But the show he started to steer, along with Warren Casey back then, did arrive on Broadway in 1972, and has been revived since. It made its own kind of music -- and history -- as the most successful movie musical, with John Travolta and Olivia Newton John -- who guests on the show this week -- in 1978.

Why is this the one that he wants now? "Probably I wouldn't have, but this is a unique revival cast by the American public," says Jacobs, whose Broadway acting credits include "No Place to Be Somebody" and "Bats in the Belfry."

Speaking of which ... doesn't one have to be a bit out there to go to bat for a show revived just 12 years ago?

Well, that's just the point, Jacobs allows. When "Grease" was resurrected in 1994, "it ran for five years and became, at that point, the longest running Broadway musical revival in history, since surpassed by 'Chicago' -- which Kathleen's brother (Rob Marshall) turned into the film."

Tell me more, tell me more. "This is a first," he adds, "letting the public vote for the ones that they want" to be stars of a Broadway show.

But who wants Broadway? Despite the fact that Broadway is in the midst of a box-office bonanza, raking in millions more than in previous years -- with such hits as "Jersey Boys," "Wicked" and the longrunning "The Lion King" roaring successes with more than a mil each week at the ticket counter -- those outside New York seemingly have whitewashed the Great White Way as a viewing habit.

Telecasts of the Tony Awards on CBS have -- notwithstanding last season's improved numbers -- proved major ratings disappointments. Jacobs begs to differ: "There is enough interest" that audiences will drop in on all these beauty shop dropouts who make "Grease" the shag cut of shimmying musicals.

Certainly has worked in London, where a similar stint staked out a new lead for a revival of "The Sound of Music" to the sound of applause and critical acclaim. Producers asked, "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?" TV viewers answered: Let us vote for her.

Better yet, can this game unveil someone with real game? Is there an untested talent out there ready to thrust his chest out as a new Harry Connick Jr.?

"Grease: You're the One That I Want" can be the one to "be a launching pad for new talent, maybe create a new Broadway star," says Marshall.

The line for the revival of "Yidl Mitn Fidl" forms to the left of the Nielsens.

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