We come to the end of our adventure. New Line Theatre's Grease closes tomorrow, having sold out 9 out of 12 performances. I'm proud of all our shows, but this one has a very special place in my heart. Grease was the first show I ever music directed, when I was a junior at Affton High School in 1980 (and the first time Affton let a student music direct). It was the first show I ever directed by myself, with CenterStage Theatre Co. in 1986. But this was the first time I worked on the show as a professional and as a theatre scholar. I know now that I didn't know shit about the show the other times I worked on it.
It has been a great damn ride. I understand the show and its historical context better than I ever expected (due in part to Skip Berger -- you rock, dude!). I understand early rock and roll, its sound, its profound cultural impact, and its relationship to the Sexual Revolution and the counterculture of the 1960s. I've learned so much about American history working on New Line shows -- about the late 1700s (The Robber Bridegroom), the 1920s (Floyd Collins, Chicago), the 1930s (The Cradle Will Rock, Reefer Madness), the 1950s (The Nervous Set, Grease), the 1960s (Hair, Cabaret), the 1970s (Rocky Horror, Company, Best Little Whorehouse), and lots more... But Grease seems to be the link among all of that, that moment at mid-century when everything changed, that point toward which everything before it was leading and from which everything after it evolved. America's Obligatory Moment.
But it's not just about me finally understanding this remarkable, insightful, truthful material. It's also that I got a chance to take this material I loved deeply and give it back its self-respect and its balls, show people what it was meant to be, give them a glimpse of the artistry and muscle of the writing that has been ignored for the last 30 years. Instead of putting our "mark" on Grease (as we do with some shows), we chose to step back and defer to the show's original creators. We gave the show back its authenticity. Some folks didn't like that -- we know from past experience that some people do not want to be challenged and they do not want the truth. (They can't HANDLE the truth!) They want simplistic, comforting, empty calories that reassure them that the world is great and that the way they live is fine and has no consequences. Those folks should just stay away from New Line -- we'll never make them happy...
But the best part of these last few months was working with this group of 16 adventurous, fearless, talented actors, who understood what this show is supposed to be and found unique, surprising, and brilliantly truthful moments throughout the show. These actors understood that the characters of Grease are KIDS, silly, immature, cruel, horny kids. For once, Grease was not populated by 20- and 30-somethings who miss the central lie of the show -- that none of these kids are actually cool, they just think they are! What a joy to see the truth in these stories at long last! Despite its obsession with sex and its filthy language, Grease has a surprising innocence about it, a child-like joy that only kids seem to possess. I will forever be grateful to our cast for finding that innocence and that joy. Our audiences appear to be utterly thrilled by it.
I am so very proud of this show. It's not for everybody, but it's honest, intelligent, rowdy, and -- my favorite thing in the world -- Truthful. What more could you ask of a piece of theatre?
Thank you Greasers.
Long Live the Musical!