Reality TV Brings Broadway New Stars, Patrons An American Idol-style contest to choose the stars of Broadway's latest Grease revival wasn't exactly a ratings smash. But hefty advance ticket sales means that the NBC series may have been a success in a different way: as a marketing gimmick.
NPR logo

Reality TV Brings Broadway New Stars, Patrons

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/12136308/12184029" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Reality TV Brings Broadway New Stars, Patrons

Reality TV Brings Broadway New Stars, Patrons

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/12136308/12184029" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

TV: Jeff Lunden has the story.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GREASE: YOU'RE THE ONE THAT I WANT")

BILLY BUSH: You're the One that I Want") Welcome to the live finale of "Grease: You're the One that I Want." Millions of you voted, and tonight America crowns who's winning Danny and Sandy.

JEFF LUNDEN, Host:

Shortly after host Billy Bush uttered those words last March, two 21-year-old unknowns, Max Crumm and Laura Osnes, were announced as the winners. On average, about eight million people tuned in to "Grease: You're the One That I Want" each week during its three-month run. And the show consistently came in third or fourth in its Sunday evening timeslot. In other words, in network television terms, the show was a flop.

DAVID IAN: I'm a theater producer, I wasn't the TV producer. So TV ratings and what have you for me are not really what's driving me.

LUNDEN: David Ian is lead producer of this $9-million revival and was a judge on the reality series.

IAN: Unidentified Group: (Singing) We go together like rama lama lama ke ding a de dinga dong...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE GO TOGETHER")

LUNDEN: So does Broadway and reality TV go together like rama lama lama ke ding a de dinga dong? Gordon Cox is a theater reporter for Variety.

GORDON COX: I think people are keeping their eye on it. And I think the sort of strong advance that "Grease" has racked up will encourage further efforts along these lines, no matter what the purists may say about how horrified they are about the popularization or the amateurization of Broadway.

(SOUNDBITE OF "YOU'RE THE ONE THAT I WANT")

BUSH: (Singing) I got chills. They're multiplying. And I'm losing control...

LUNDEN: When two-time Tony Award-winner Kathleen Marshall was approached to direct and choreograph the revival of "Grease," as well as serve as a panelist on the TV show, she says she was intrigued.

KATHLEEN MARSHALL: And I thought if there ever was a show to try this kind of casting with, this is the one because it's such a popular show. It's the most popular movie musical ever made. And it's also about young people - you'd be looking for fresh talent no matter what.

(SOUNDBITE OF "SUMMER NIGHTS")

MAX CRUMM: (As Danny) (Singing) Summer loving had me a blast...

LAURA OSNES: (As Sandy)(Singing) Summer loving happened so fast...

LUNDEN: And true to the TV series unscripted origins, the selection of the slightly goofy Max Crumm in the role that John Travolta made famous left producer David Ian...

IAN: Totally surprised. He wouldn't have been the one that I would have bet on at all. I think the outsider won in my opinion. You know, not a conventional Danny-type, if you will; great singer, great actor, great dancer/mover, but I think it's pretty fair to say that we were all surprised by the outcome.

LUNDEN: But as part of the panel of professionals who helped carefully select the reality show's finalists, director Kathleen Marshall says she was delighted that Max Crumm and Laura Osnes were the winners.

MARSHALL: You know, as the judges, we thought we can't make people vote for somebody but we can give them permission. We can affirm their choice. So the fact that we said, you know what, Sandy doesn't have to be a blonde. We're not looking for an Olivia Newton-John clone here. And so people could sort of see Laura as a real possibility for this part.

(SOUNDBITE OF "HOPELESSLY DEVOTED TO YOU")

OSNES: (As Sandy) (Singing) But now there's nowhere to hide since you pushed my love aside. I'm nodding my head hopelessly devoted to you. Hopelessly devoted to you.

LUNDEN: Backstage during tech rehearsals, both Crumm and Osnes used the terms stressful and surreal often as they described their journey from obscurity to seeing their faces plastered on posters in the subway and a huge billboard in Times Square. Crumm says just walking on the street these days is an adventure.

CRUMM: I get a lot of, like, young girls that come up to me a lot of the time, and moms - a lot of moms who like to come up to me. So it's pretty funny. And if Laura and I are ever walking together in this area, it's like we're Disneyland characters.

LUNDEN: Laura Osnes.

OSNES: It was unreal. It was completely unreal because I'm like I'm just this little girl from Minnesota that, like, happened to audition for this. And now I'm on national TV and I have fans and, like, screaming audience. It's just - it was a once in a lifetime experience that - I never thought I would have gone through something like that. And, you know, this early in my life and now I won this competition and now I'm playing Sandy on Broadway, it's just - I never thought that would happen to me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOW, "GREASE: YOU'RE THE ONE THAT I WANT")

BUSH: Introducing your Broadway Danny and Sandy, Max and Laura.

LUNDEN: Producer David Ian is well aware of the star-making possibilities of melding reality TV with theater. His smash-hit revival of "The Sound of Music" in London found its Maria, Connie Fisher, on reality TV. And two weeks after "Grease" opens in New York, Ian is opening a different production also cast from a reality series in London's West End. While the producer is pleased to be introducing two freshly minted young stars on Broadway, he hopes this production outlasts their tenure.

IAN: This show will continue after Max and Laura leave, whenever that is. And I'm not looking to have a show run just for the length of their contracts. And I hope Max and Laura are the first of many Danny and Sandy's in this production.

LUNDEN: For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF "YOU'RE THE ONE THAT I WANT")

OSNES: (As Sandy) (Singing) Oh, yes indeed.

I W: (Singing) You're the One That I Want. Ooh, Ooh, Ooh, Ooh...

: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.