If you think Broadway and reality TV go together like "rama-lama-lama, ke-ding-a-de-ding-a-dong," NBC's Grease: You're the One That I Want, which debuts Sunday, Jan. 7, at 8 pm/ET, will have you singing and dancing in the bleachers. Produced by the folks behind Dancing with the Stars, the series stages an intense search for two unknowns to front an in-the-works Broadway production of Grease, playing bad boy Danny Zuko and virginal Sandy Dumbrowski (played in the film by Olivia Newton-John, who will be a guest on the first two episodes). A trio of judges — theater producer David Ian, Grease coauthor Jim Jacobs and two-time Tony winner Kathleen Marshall (who will direct and choreograph the eventual stage show) — are on hand to critique the finalists. But in the tradition of American Idol, the audience will ultimately decide who makes it to the Great White Way. TVGuide.com talked with Marshall about treading the boards for broadcast TV.
TVGuide.com: Let me get my hero worship out of the way. I have seen every single musical you've choreographed on Broadway. And I saw your last one, Pajama Game, which won you the 2006 Tony Award for best choreography, twice.
Kathleen Marshall: Wow, those were hard tickets to get!
TVGuide.com: OK, I'm calm now. Tell me how you got involved with this show.
Marshall: I got a call saying there was going to be a new production of Grease and that it would be connected to a reality-TV series, and I was invited to be a part of both projects. People have been trying to figure out how to blend reality TV with Broadway for a while. It just makes so much sense, because everybody knows Grease. It's the most popular movie musical of all time, and it's always been a launching pad for young talent. John Travolta did the tour long before he did the film, Richard Gere played Danny in the original London production, and, of course, Barry Bostwick originated the role on Broadway.
TVGuide.com: As a veteran theater choreographer and director, you've sat through countless auditions. What did you think of the hopefuls who tried out for Grease: You're the One That I Want?
Marshall: I was surprised at the range of talent, quite honestly. We had so many great people, and so many terrible ones. First there was a screening-out process, and then the producers sent forward a combination of eccentric and wonderful applicants. There's a fun Gong Show aspect to it. There were a lot of people there who just wanted to get on TV, and they probably will. Like the guy in Chicago who came in wearing a Lone Ranger mask; I can't even remember what he sang. Or the guy in Los Angeles who came in riding a bike. Or the New Yorker with the trucker cap, long hair and beard, named Sex. He looked like the lost member of ZZ Top.
TVGuide.com: But there were good people, too, I hope.
Marshall: Oh, we saw some really talented people. We emphasized that we're not looking for Travolta or Newton-John look-alikes. Of course, the people auditioning for Danny and Sandy need to be young and attractive and fresh, but the performers we pick have to be able to sing and dance and act. And on top of that, since we're casting a couple, they need to have chemistry.
TVGuide.com: What can you share about Grease, both the TV series and the Broadway show?
Marshall: The first two episodes are casting specials. On the third, we will whittle 24 competitors down to 12 finalists — six guys and six girls. From then on, as far as I know, we're eliminating two every week. That's going to be a killer, because we've fallen in love with all of them! [As for the stage production] we probably won't open until the summer, since the NBC show runs through mid-March. Grease is very different than other reality shows, because once those series are done, they're done. But for us, when the TV show ends, that's just the beginning, because then we go into rehearsals. We have a lot more at stake.
TVGuide.com: Do you anticipate any twists? For example, if America votes off the contestants the judges like most, will the judges be able to find a way to keep them?
Marshall: Not that I know of. But on the British TV show How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? [a reality competition that cast the lead role in a production of The Sound of Music], sometimes the judges could save somebody. So perhaps the rules will change as we go.
TVGuide.com: Has there been anything you haven't enjoyed about doing TV?
Marshall: Just sitting through the hair and the wardrobe and the makeup, the whole being the on-air-talent thing — I'm just not used to it. I started out as a dancer, but that was a long time ago. Also, I'm not used to telling performers what I think of them right to their faces. But here I have no choice!
Reality-TV fans can find scoop on such shows as American Idol, I Love New York and The Amazing Race: All-Stars in the the "2007 Preview" issue of TV Guide, now on newsstands.
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