Just got home from our first choreography rehearsal for Grease, and I couldn't be more jazzed. Our choreographer, Robin Berger, is one of the best I've ever known when it comes to creating dance that comes out of character and situation, rather than stringing together a bunch of steps that look nice. As a performer herself, she understands musical theatre in a way most choreographers don't -- the dance has to be as strong a storytelling tool as the words and music are. Dance in a musical is not there to Look Pretty -- it's there to tell the story, to give the audience necessary information about characters, relationships, the plot, the show's larger themes, all of it. Robin Gets That. And as an added bonus, she's not afraid to get vulgar. Thank God.
Today, Robin staged both "We Go Together" and "Greased Lightning" and both are so terrific -- funny, sexy, aggressive. The original New York producers of the show back in 1971 hired Patricia Birch to choreograph Grease because they wanted someone who would not create Broadway style dances. They wanted the dance to be authentic to period, but also rough, unpolished, seemingly un-choreographed (just like Hair). That original production achieved that difficult mix of chaos and (hidden) control, to create movement that seemed to come out of the characters spontaneously. Hopefully, we'll achieve the same thing.
On another topic, I started reading There Are Worse Things I Could Do, an autobiography by Adrienne Barbeau (the original Rizzo), and though she doesn't spend a lot of time on Grease, she does devote one chapter to it. According to her, the producers hired her because she didn't seem like An Actor. She writes in her book about their hiring of director Tom Moore: "Tom's strength was getting performances that were so realistic the audience didn't believe they were watching actors. That's what Ken and Maxine [the producers] wanted for Grease. What they didn't want was a cotton-candy musical." A-fuckin'-men!
Long Live the Musical!