Grease: The Reality Show

Ashley Spencer
Being from California, I always thought humming showtunes — perhaps a tasteful selection from My Fair Lady -- was on par with other ultra-masculine endeavors, like, say, grilling up a nice salmon fillet or driving a stick shift. My Cleveland brethren claim this is untrue, so I was nervous about watching last night's much-hyped debut of the new reality series, Grease: You're the one that I want. Songs have a tendency to linger in my head, and I have a tendency to belt them out in the lunch room. The spontaneous busting of "Summer Nights," I feared, would not go over well. I needed an alibi, and I got one. Before the show debuted in its regular Sunday slot (8 p.m. on NBC), I learned that a local girl would be competing on the American Idol-style show, which will let America cast the leads for a new Broadway production of Grease. Of course, someone would have to write about her appearance on the show, giving me the perfect excuse to spend the week singing, "You're the one that I want!" and looking around for someone to echo, "Ooh, ooh, ooh!" The woman, 21-year-old Ashley Spencer, was the first (and one of the most prominent) Sandy hopefuls featured on the show. Spencer, who recently played Barbie in a touring stage show, donned a polka-dot dress and belted, almost as well as I could, "Hopelessly Devoted to You," which may or may not be the best song ever. The panel of judges — the musical's director, writer, and producer, who of course is a British prick — asked her to tone it down. She did, and they passed her through to the song's next round, where the prospective Rydell High students had to learn a few dance steps and perform again for the judges. Then, in reality TV's typically over dramatic fashion, the judges had to decide which contestants would make it to the Grease Academy, where finalists will go through rigorous singing, acting, and dancing training. The camera fixed on Ashley. The prick British dude said, "You're ... the one that I want." She's moving on. Eventually, a dozen of them will perform live (just like in Idol) and America will make the final casting decisions. How this works out will be interesting. It's one thing to have middle America pick the next big pop star. There's not a lot of risk there; if a lot of Americans vote for someone to make it big, they're going to see to it that whoever they pick becomes a star. But these poor saps — director, producer, etc. -- have to take the selections of middle America and try to sell them on Broadway, where, compared with pop music, success requires a much more refined set of skills. And the voters — middle class folks in Tacoma, Dallas, Milwaukee, wherever — aren't likely to be in Manhattan anytime soon, plopping down a hundred bucks for a ticket. Are New York theatre-goers going to fall for the same Danny-and-Sandy combo that America forces on them? — Joe P. Tone, closet gay reporter
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