As I go traveling down life's highway...

Tomorrow those rowdy New Liners, we happy few, begin work on Grease (which, I'm told, is The Word), in what I can only describe as a radical new production ("radical" as in its true definition: returning to the roots or origin). A wop-bop-a-loo-mop, a good goddamn!

I've done the show twice before, once in high school playing The Main Brain, Vince Fontaine, and music directing for the first time in my life (they told us we were the first amateurs ever to do the show, though I wouldn't swear on a Sondheim score that's true), and then later with a community theatre group, the first time I had ever directed a show by myself. But for neither of those productions did I do the kind of research and prep work that I now do obsessively for all the shows I direct. Those productions were certainly fine, even entertaining, but in hindsight we didn't really get it... If you've got a little time, check out some deeper background and analysis of the show on the New Line website.

I've been spending the last several months watching great 50s documentaries and drive-in films from Netflix and reading several very cool books -- The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll, The Century of Sex: Playboy's History of the Sexual Revolution, 1900-1999, Teenagers: An American History, and David Halberstam's amazing book The Fifties.

And the more I've learned about the period, the people, the purple frenched tail lights, the more I am knocked out by how authentic Grease really is -- every time I'd come across new information about that period, I'd realize it was already in the Grease script somewhere, sometimes very subtly. (I never thought subtle would be a word I'd use to describe Grease, but I say without a hint of my usual irony that it's true as the whine of a '54 Fender Stratocaster.) All my research gave me serious new respect for this show that I had always thought was merely fun. I realize now that Grease is a remarkably well-crafted concept musical (modeled in part on Hair) that presents to us a genuinely authentic snapshot of one pivotal moment in American history – 1959 – when rock and roll was giving birth to the Sexual Revolution, and everything in America culture was about to be turned upside down. Like Hair, Grease was meant to be vulgar, aggressive, raw, rowdy, unpolished, un-traditional, and un-commercial.

And so we're putting the grease back in Grease, putting it back the way it was meant to be, ending (at least for now) the ongoing castration of the show by "family friendly" grotesqueries. And I say defiantly: Fuck the rotten 1994 revival, and fuck this new reality show to cast the newest revival -- it's already so obvious that this revival will suck as hard as the '94 production. Do they really need to put the movie's late-70s disco numbers into the nearly perfect stage show? Every song in the real score is so authentic in its sound, its beat, its structure -- some of the Grease songs can even be sung to actual 50s songs. The real score really gets the sound of Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Tea Queens, The Cadillacs, The TeenChords, The Kodaks, The Penguins, The Everly Brothers, and others. Why clutter it up with songs that (catchy as they are) have no relation whatsoever to that period or to the themes of the show?

Just as when New Line produced Hair in 2000 and 2001 (check out my book Let the Sun Shine In: The Genius of HAIR), our top priority with Grease will be authenticity -- getting the look right, the attitude right, the clothes right, and most of all, getting that raw, untrained sound of early rock and roll right.

We've got such an outstanding cast, and we're all so excited about starting work. My great hope is that we surprise the hell out of audiences who've never seen Grease as it should be, and also that we surprise the people who lived through that time by showing them how deeply Grease and its creators understood that wild, thrilling, disorienting moment in American cultural history, that brief window in the mid-20th century when death and despair were not hanging over America's head, after the tumult of the Depression, two World Wars, the Korean War; and before Vietnam, race riots, Watergate, and the energy crisis. This was a special time in America that created some of the most influential culture in world history, especially in music.

The New Line cast includes Brendan Allred (Danny), Beth Bishop (Sandy), Mara Bollini (Cha-Cha), Kiné Brown (Marty), Cindy Duggan (Miss Lynch), Joe Garner (Sonny), Erin Marie Hogan (Patty), Matthew Korinko (Vince Fontaine), Katie Nestor (Jan), Chris Owens (Eugene), Isabel Pastrana (Frenchy), Jeffrey Pruett (Johnny Casino/Teen Angel), B.C. Stands (Kenickie), Scott Tripp (Doody), Lainie Wade (Rizzo), and Jeff Wright (Roger). I'm directing with Khnemu Menu-Ra, and with choreography by Robin Berger, with set design by G.P. Hunsaker, lighting by Ken Zinkl, and costumes by Russ Bettlach.

This is the first time I've documented the progress of a show in real time. I hope it proves at least slightly interesting to folks who find such things interesting... and that it rehabilitates in some small way the reputation of this outstanding show.

Long Live the Musical!