Grease Is The Word judge David Gest kicked off the competition with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rival reality show Any Dream Will Do last night by saying “Grease has good songs, I don’t think Joseph has as good songs, everybody knows!”
Gest was speaking at a press conference to launch the ITV reality programme Grease is The Word, which will cast the leads in the stage show of Grease, opening at the Piccadilly in August. Gest, Grease producer David Ian, fellow judge Sinitta and presenters Zoë Ball and Holly Willoughby were on hand to answer questions about their televised search for two unknowns to fill the shoes of Sandy and Danny on stage. Fourth judge, choreographer Brian Friedman, was absent.
Grease Is The Word, co-produced by Simon Cowell’s production company Syco, follows the mould of telly talent contests like X Factor and How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?, which last year saw Ian and Lloyd Webber cast Connie Fisher in the role of Maria in The Sound Of Music through a televised public vote. Lloyd Webber’s new BBC programme to cast the lead in Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Any Dream Will Do, goes head to head on Saturday night prime time with Grease Is The Word.
Ian was more tactful than Gest in addressing the rivalry, saying “Like all TV programmes people have a choice as to what they want to watch. I think it’s great for our industry.”
Open auditions for Grease Is The Word have already been held over the past few weeks at the Shaftesbury, where Ian and fellow judges set up camp to watch hundreds of hopefuls perform in front of them. Of those, some were picked to go to ‘boot camp’, before the group was further whittled down to just eight couples, who will perform each week on the Saturday night programme starting 7 April. The winning couple will be chosen by public vote.
A sneak preview of the mass audition process revealed that the auditionees include former pop singer Kavana, who had a hit in 1997 with I Can Make You Feel Good, and a 36-year-old woman ‘looking for love’ with head judge Ian.
In what has become something of a tradition in programmes of this kind, a friendly animosity exists on the judging panel, with Gest commenting: “David, truthfully he’s a nice guy, [but] he’s got the brain of a pee. David has some talent, but we’re still trying to find it. Sinitta’s wonderful, and Brian [Friedman], I’m still trying to figure out what he does.”
Ian said: “I think there were a couple of moments where various people on the panel have been more concerned about having fun on a reality TV programme than they have casting Danny and Sandy in the West End, and that’s my main concern. So there have been a few fraught moments.”
Ian confirmed that the auditions were open to both amateurs and professionals, as was last year’s How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? Fisher, the winner of that programme, was professionally trained but had never starred in a West End lead role, and recently damaged her vocal chords after performing eight shows a week while ill.
Ian said the chosen Danny and Sandy, whether experienced or not, would perform all eight shows a week, stressing the distinction between the demands of different roles. “Maria in The Sound Of Music is a huge, huge sing, and Connie would be the first to admit that the mistake she made was to sing through a cold, which, to some extent is to be admired because she didn’t want to let the public down, but the other sign of the coin it was a mistake because she caused damage. But Maria is a very different sing from Danny and Sandy, she has considerably more to do and I would argue that The Sound Of Music revolves very much round that central performance, whereas Grease is very much an ensemble piece and Danny and Sandy are two of several leads.”
While there was some open criticism prior to How Do You… for subjecting what could be professionally trained musical theatre actors to a public vote, Ian said this time around “what was very interesting was that more professionals came for [the auditions] than I ever noticed when we did the Maria programme.”
Grease is best known for the 1978 film starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton John, but Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s creation began as a musical in Chicago in 1971, going on to run for eight successful years on Broadway. The London premiere production starred Richard Gere and Stacey Gregg in the lead roles, while ex-neighbours star Craig MacLachlan and 80s popstrel Debbie Gibson played Danny and Sandy in a new 1993 production, which ran in the West End until 1999.
This summer’s Grease is a revival of the 1993 production, directed by David Gilmore and choreographed by Arlene Phillips. It opens at the Piccadilly on 8 August, with previews from 25 July. Booking opens today.