Well, the reviews are out. Several of them are mixed but generally positive -- and the negative comments are pretty much exactly what we expected, quite clearly born of preconceptions about this show from which the reviewers apparently could not escape... Luckily (from a producer's perspective, at least), the Post Dispatch review was pretty much a rave.
And we're selling out most performances, so really, who cares what they think? Our audiences are having an absolute blast!
One review, in one of the smaller papers, by a reviewer whose identity will not be revealed here (to protect the clueless) was exactly the kind of unthinking, intellectually lazy review we were dreading...
He started his review by describing Grease as a show "painted in cartoonish bright colors and broad strokes." Ironically, the whole reason we did the show was to correct the misconception that Grease is a cartoon, that it is musical comedy, but if someone thinks that's what Casey and Jacobs wrote, it's inevitable that they would not like what we've wrought. That may be how many people produce the show now, but Casey and Jacobs wrote a gritty, rowdy concept musical exploring one of the most important cultural moments in American history, a show that explicitly rejected everything this reviewer thinks Grease is.
It's interesting to me that, with reviewers like this, it never occurs to them that they don't fully understand our shows -- they always assume (and I mean always) that the shows themselves are the problem...
He was terribly disappointed that we didn't actually bring a car out onstage for "Greased Lightning," because he thinks the car is the "highlight" of the show. I would argue that any production in which the car is the highlight must be a pretty shitty production of Grease.
This guy dismissed the show's structure as "too loose to quite earn the name of plot," not understanding that Grease is not a book musical. It never was. (Which may be why he also thinks it feels more like a concert than a book musical.) Grease is a concept musical. The "plot" isn't the point. The impact of rock and roll on American sexuality is the point. Which is why he so utterly misses the boat when he contends that Danny and Sandy's romance is central to the show -- only five of the show's twenty songs have anything at all to do with them, so how could they be conventional musical comedy leads? Grease isn't about them anymore than it's about Roger or Doody. It's about rock and roll and sex.
And contrary to what this guy thinks, the music of Grease is not parody (aside, perhaps, from "Raining on Prom Night") -- it's incredibly authentic evocation. I've been studying in depth the actual music of the 1950s and am amazed by the authenticity of the Grease score, musically, rhythmically, structurally, harmonically, textually... The writers weren't making fun of 50s music; they were celebrating it, exploring it, showing us how inventive and sophisticated and subversive much of it was.
And on top of everything else, this guy completely missed the truth of who these kids are. They're not "archetypes;" they're real, working class kids in an inner city high school. (Believe me, I've spent the last six months hearing stories from folks who were greasers who graduated in 1959.) It's a simplistic misreading of the show to think that Kenickie or any of the others are "the coolest of the cool and the hottest of the hot." They're high school kids, for God's sake! Have you ever met a high school kid who fit that description? None of them are genuinely cool -- that's one of the central points of the show! Likewise, Eugene is not a cartoon -- he's the straight A student who will go on to a happy, successful life (as we see in the opening reunion scene), a kind of life that will elude most of the other characters. Like the others, Eugene is not a cartoon character, no matter how much this reviewer wants him to be. There is not a word in the script that suggests he should be played as a cartoon nerd.
If this hapless reviewer would have expended just the slightest effort at peeking under the surface, it would have revealed to him so much more in Grease than he took the trouble to see. He came in with preconceptions about this show and nothing could shake them. Unfortunately, this reviewer routinely sees so little in our work, even when the other reviewers and our audiences see so much more...
I guess it seems to me only fair that a reviewer should expend as much thought and consideration on our work as we put into the work itself. It has nothing to do with positive or negative; it's about doing the job of theatre reviewing with intelligence and insight. Doesn't our audience deserve that? And don't our artists deserve that as well?
Same as it ever was, I guess...
Long Live the Musical!