Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Grease: (Why Are So Many) Hopelessly Devoted to You? (Part 2)

If Grease has survived based upon the love people have for the movie, its original run can probably be credited to the air of nostalgia it must have created. To stand on its own two feet otherwise is almost incredulous.

Grease is a show that thrives on a meager plot plugged with songs that are high on the nostalgia factor but low on the purpose factor. That is not to say that there isn't richness in the characters--Danny, Frenchy, Marty, Patty, Kenicke, and particularly Rizzo are all vibrant personalities befitting the stage. The problem is that the plot doesn't strongly revolve around them. Sandy and Danny break up and get together without much motivation. They proclaim undying love to each other, but, as appeared on stage in the tour, there's no particular reason for them to be together or not to be together. Sandy's big transformation at the end is also without any real motivation. Though her character is weakly developed, it still seems almost entirely out of character for her to change so drastically. And with the exception of Rizzo and Kenicke, the other secondary characters could easily be excised without much of an impact on the main plot.

While I was watching Grease (and enjoying myself enough to make it worth the trip if not on the Hairspray or Les Miserables level), I couldn't help but think, "How did this show make it all these years?" Obviously, as the movie proved, there is the germ for an appealing plot in the show, but it simply isn't developed. Yes, it wasn't developed because that was not the vision of the original creators, but that doesn't make it any more fascinating of a plot for those of us who don't "Remember the good old days."

Most interestingly, seeing Grease really explained Over Here!. As a teenager, I had discovered the OBCR of Over Here! at the library and immediately picked it up since I have always enjoyed the work of Richard and Robert Sherman (who wrote music for Mary Poppins, The Happiest Millionaire, and most of the music for The Jungle Book). It's a great CD, loaded with that great 1940s sound (this was the show which starred two of the Andrew Sisters), and the songs are stupendous, even if it did take me a number of years to fully get what the VD Polka was.

The libretto for Over Here! is available through Samuel French, and when I discovered that, I immediately picked it up. I was shocked by how plotless the show was. Though the score hints at the lives of the main characters and the plot of some secondary characters, the show doesn't have a strong plot structure. The events almost just happen to happen with a funny plot twist at the end which acts as a climax, a climax that is not adequately built toward. It is, in essence, a show whose heart is "Remember the good old days." There is the promise of a really great plot with fun characters, but that was not the purpose of the show. As a result, there isn't one.

Did I mention the original production of Over Here! was produced by the original producers of Grease two years after that show's phenomenal success? Hmmm . . .

I was honestly shocked that The Wedding Singer didn't run longer because it was not far from Grease in its kitschy references to an era gone by. The big difference is that The Wedding Singer has a much stronger plot, far more interesting characters, and is extremely funny. Perhaps, as well, the producers could have played up the 80s throwbacks better (and stronger reviews would have helped too).

When Hairspray hit movie theaters with its 1960s music and energetic dancing (not to mention John Travolta), many made a connection between the success of both movies. Having seen the stage Grease, I'm not sure if there really is such a strong connection after all. Either way, Hairspray is far superior to Grease in about every way. But then, Hairspray's creators were also out to create something that told a great story with great music.

the Broadway Mouth
January 7, 2009

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