After 11 episodes of Grease: You’re the One That I Want!, Max Crumm and Laura Osnes were named as the leads of the latest Broadway revival of the musical Grease. The reality show attracted an average of only eight million viewers and NBC cancelled it after one season. Some would say that the series was a failure but they might be missing the real bottom line.
You’re the One That I Want! is actually based on the British reality show How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria?. The series was produced by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber (The Phantom of the Opera, Sunset Boulevard, etc.) and producer David Ian and was a competition to find the female lead for a West End revival of The Sound of Music. It was successful enough to spawn a spin-off to cast the male lead for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Ian brought the idea to US television and ired many theatre purists. They felt that the show cheapened the theatre process but in truth, the Grease revival wasn’t likely to happen without it. Show judge and Grease director Kathleen Marshall believes the show actually gave her a creative edge and said, “Because I staged the musical numbers for the TV show, I was in a room working with all the contestants every week. That’s something you don’t get in regular auditions. I’ve had more prep time for this Broadway show than any I’ve ever done.”
Grease officially opened on August 19th. So, after all the hype, how has the musical turned out? As you might expect, many critics’ opinions of the TV show seem to have influenced their reviews.
The New York Post’s Clive Barnes gave the show a one star rating. He called Crumm “uncharismatic,” Osnes “unexciting,” and the chemistry between them basically nonexistent. The reviewer admits that he has never liked Grease and believes the musical has four decent lines at most.
The New York Times’ Ben Brantley likens the revival to a lousy high school production. He does note that no one in the show is “flat-out terrible” and nobody “strays from melodies, flubs dialogue or botches rudimentary dance moves.” Those who watched the TV show are sure to enjoy it but “Those who come to Grease without such sentimental attachments are sure to be baffled by the lack of wit, charisma or original presence on the stage.”
Conversely, TIME’s Richard Zoglin thinks that Crumm and Osnes do well in their roles. He regards Crumm as a winsome, class clown and compliments Osnes’ lovely, sculptured singing voice. He also notes that, after seeing the TV show, his 13-year-old daughter and her friends were dying to see the revival. Zoglin ponders, “Which is sort of what we’re going for here, isn’t it? I mean, getting a new generation excited about theater again?”
The producers would certainly agree. Though You’re the One That I Want! wasn’t a great ratings success, the Broadway production has been selling out. Even before the musical hit the stage, the TV show helped to generate $14.2 million in advance ticket sales. The production only cost $10 million to mount so it was a financial success before the doors opened — a very rare thing for Broadway today. So, despite a mediocre TV run and poor reviews, Grease producers are dancing all the way to the bank. Stay tuned!