And still... and still... one thing keeps gnawing at me. It's nothing that'll keep the show from being kickass and taking names... I doubt anyone will even know about this problem of mine (except now it's on the web, ya moron!). The problem is this: I still haven't found a consistent approach for moving in and out of songs in the show. It's maddening because I feel so completely in tune with this show, so totally on the right road, in every other respect, and yet this one thing still puzzles me. This show doesn't work like other musicals.
How do we reconcile the very naturalistic style the creators of Grease clearly wanted with the wholly un-naturalistic practice of breaking into song? And I've made it even harder for us by deciding we will use hand-held, corded microphones, just like the original production did. But what are the rules? Are the actors moving out of the action when they sing? Is it fantasy? Is it commentary, Greek chorus style? Is it its own style entirely with its own rules? I'd bet my fuel-injection cutoff that there is one unified approach that makes it all work.
I know what you're thinking -- for God's sake, ya meatball, it's just Grease! Don't over-analyze it!
I know that's what you're thinking! Don't deny it -- I can hear your thoughts. You didn't know I could do that, did you?
I'll answer you this way: I've learned over the years (I've been directing musicals since 1981) that when something in a show doesn't make sense, when it seems inconsistent or sloppy, when you're thinking, "Boy, they sure did write this scene badly..." When you get to that moment, the odds are a thousand to one that the fault lies with you, not the material. Why do so many directors putting on community theatre -- and professional -- musicals think they're somehow better storytellers than the folks who've written classic hit Broadway shows, that they know how to fix the "problems" that the pros couldn't solve? Sondheim and Hal Prince couldn't make it work, but the also-ran Brainiac who works the graveyard shift at 7-11 has all the answers? Really? I've seen so many productions in which the director has cut songs, added songs from movie versions, even written new scenes of their own!! What are they thinking?
Sure, I have felt occasional frustration, moments I just didn't get, in shows like Hair, Jacques Brel (a lot in that show!), Songs for a New World, A New Brain, Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Camelot, Pippin, just sure that the writer(s) had failed. And in every case, I thought and thought about it, and eventually figured out what I was missing. The truth was that the material was incredibly well crafted in every show, and I just hadn't yet understood what the authors were trying to do.
So my current dilemma... I've come to respect Grease as a piece of theatre so much more since we've been working on it. I think this time, just like all those other times, the show itself is as tight as Kenickie's ass, and I just have to work a little harder, and keep at it, and one of these days, that little cartoon light bulb will go off over my head, and it will all make sense... and it'll scare the living shit outta my cat!
We've got plenty of time. But it does bug me.
Long Live the Musical!